Encouragement From The Word

Life is not measured by how much you own

Customarily, I take a week off before the season of Advent begins, and I did so this year – but I spent it in a different way than I have before.

Like most couples, my wife and I have accumulated a lot of Stuff over the 30 years of our marriage, and while we have no plans to move, we found that the volume of Stuff around which we were living was getting a bit overwhelming.

So, inspired by having just cleared out my mother’s house – my childhood home –  following her move to a retirement facility, I was ready to do a little decluttering and purging of my own.

The adventure began in the basement, where many things go to die from ignorance.  We were able to donate many things that we had been saving for a yard sale we were going to have after the pandemic hit.  Items we had been saving, thinking, “That’s going to be handy someday” were let go to enable them to be handy for someone else.  We had our share of thoughts of, Why on earth did I save THAT? as they were boxed up for donation.

There was a reasonable volume of trash. And a mountain of recycling.  I even had a full carload of Stuff to take to the hazardous waste depot!

In the end, the basement is much better organized, and several shelves upstairs are bereft of long-ignored books and trinkets.  While there is more that could be done, I am deeply satisfied with what was accomplished.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, the day before my decluttering week began, I met with my spiritual director, and together we explored the commonalities between decluttering the home and decluttering the heart.

When I live surrounded by clutter, my senses make it hard for me to focus on the Lord.  So there were times when I was saying to myself, I need to deal with all this Stuff when I should have been in conversation with the Lord.

Decluttering isn’t a panacea by any stretch of the imagination, spiritual or otherwise.  But it has helped me be at peace more than I was before the events of last week.  In one sense, to borrow from the title of a popular book by the late Dallas Willard, not only did I declutter my home last week, I undertook a renovation of the heart.

What decluttering needs to happen in your life in order for your relationship with God to flourish?  It might have to do with Stuff, or it might have to do with toxic relationships, or other challenges you face.  Whatever it is, get to purging it.

Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12.15b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The feast of St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas among our high-church friends, a day when the church marks the remembrance of a church leader whose heart for giving has become legendary…so legendary that, like many stories, it has been warped and changed into something it was never intended to be.

Indeed, St. Nicholas, the ancient Christian bishop known for great benevolence, has, for so many, become Santa Claus, the Coca-Cola drinking poster-st_nicholas_myra_500boy for consumerism at its worst.

Think about it:  the figure of Santa Claus is not a Christian symbol of giving, but an icon of hope for commercial endeavour.  Had there been no St. Nicholas to morph, there would be no “Black Friday”, the day retail businesses begin to make a profit for the year.  It is no small irony that Black Friday occurs the day after American Thanksgiving, when over 300 million people set aside time to be grateful for all that they have, only to be enticed by sales to trample over people to get – what? – more.

St. Nicholas was not about more.  And St. Nicholas did not give only to “deserving girls and boys”.  No, Nicholas’ benevolence stretched beyond adding to the storehouses of the deserving to meeting the basic necessities of the truly needy.

For many in North American society, Jesus’ birthday celebration has become an opportunity to accumulate more rather than to extend grace and kindness to others, as Nicholas did.

I encourage you, today, to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas by treating Advent and Christmas as seasons not of spending money immoderately, but of extending grace lavishly.

Jesus said, “Take care!  Protect yourself against the least bit of greed.  Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” (Luke 12.15, The Message).

By the way, thanks to everybody who prayed for my wife and me while we were in Israel.  We arrived home safely last night, and are still processing the trip!