My wife and I are always looking for ways to simplify our lives. Recently, she heard about a project called “40 Bags in 40 Days.” In this challenge, you commit to de-cluttering a single area of your house every day for six weeks. All excess items are placed in bags for donation or dumping. It’s like a Lenten purge.
“Doesn’t it sounds like fun?!” she exclaimed.
“You and I have very different definitions of the word ‘fun,’” I answered.
The first few days, she attacked trouble spots like a human sieve, sifting through years of family knick-knacks. I helped by sitting on the couch and watching reruns of Deadliest Catch.
Gabby unearthed a treasure trove of random items. A VCR recording of an episode of Seinfeld. A twelve- year-old package of funnel cake mix, stashed in a box with a funnel cake maker we have never used. Over thirty different keys for unknown locks.
Several days into the challenge, the obvious items had already been packed away for donation. Now it was time for the really difficult work. She enlisted my help and pulled me into the kitchen, where she stood silently staring at the stacks of dishes in our cabinets.
“What about our china. Should we donate that?” she asked.
I gasped. Like a woman scorned.
“You mean our wedding china?”
I was momentarily horrified. As if giving away our prized wedding gift somehow indicated she had given up on our marriage.
A long debate ensued. And not because I have a china fetish. There were a lot of happy memories tied to our fancy dinnerware. But we soon realized that none of those memories actually involved eating off of those plates. We had been waiting for a special occasion. Unfortunately, the Queen of England still hasn’t RSVP’d. So the china goes unused. Just like fancy napkin rings. And the “good towels” hanging in the bathroom.
Waiting for a guest who will never come.
And for this reason, I think I am a hoarder. Not the kind you see on reality TV shows, living on piles of clothing and old pizza boxes. I mean the kind of hoarder who takes more than he needs. And it all stems from the fact that I’m asking all the wrong questions.
When sifting through the clothes in my closet, I ask,
“When might I wear this again?”
No matter the item, I can always think of a situation.
Maybe save it for a Halloween party!
Or painting a room.
Or a visit to the White house.
When looking at dishes in our cabinet, or knick-knacks on a shelf, I ask,
“Should I keep this?”
No matter the item, I can always think of a reason.
It was very expensive.
It was a gift.
It might come in handy someday.
And most of the items stay in my house. Tucked away in a junk drawer. Until the next time I stumble across them and try and remember why I still have them. Worried that giving them away somehow leaves me vulnerable.
I’m not alone in this.
I recently watched a clip from the movie the Son of God. If you haven’t heard of the picture, it’s the one in theaters now with the GQ Jesus whose teeth were straightened and bleached by the angels before the Almighty sent him down to live with us poor slobs.
* Side note: Some moviegoers thought they had accidentally stepped into a screening for “The Bachelor.”
Anyhow, the clip I saw was where Jesus sets out across the Sea of Galilee with the disciples. When he gets to shore, he is shocked to see that five thousand people have come to see him. It’s like a Christ-a-Palooza: Healfest ‘32. The problem is, no one called the caterer. So the disciples are little worried about crowd control. They have five thousand soon-to-be-“hangry” folks who know how to use a rod and a staff.
They told Jesus,
36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied,
In the movie version of this clip, when GQ Jesus looks up to heaven to give thanks, he holds the basket above his perfectly-coiffed, highlighted head. When he brings it back down, it is miraculously filled to the brim with food. And this is image I’ve had in my head for decades. Jesus multiplying what he was given.
But I think our math is wrong.
It’s not a multiplication problem.
In every account of the story,
And there was more than enough.
I tend to think that miracles are like magic. Like Sigfried and Roy making a tiger appear where there was none before. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the seashore that day, so I can’t be certain. But when I think of this story in the context of my reluctance to give, I wonder if the miracle may have been less an act of Jesus himself, and more an act of God moving within those present. Finding satisfaction in the simple. Finally learning the definition of enough. Realizing that the “least of these” are often made whole through the generosity of those who have the “most of that.”
Miraculous, I know.
My prayer today is that I change my questions. The old method of asking “How might I use this?” and “Should I keep this?” encouraged my creative mind to think of reasons to hang on.
But hanging on is not the goal. It’s all about giving in. Trusting. Sharing. Distributing. Dividing. It’s about asking, “What harm will come if I give this away?” And “Who needs this more?”
And in parting with those things I once held so tightly, may I finally find myself.
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