I’ve just gotten back from spending nine days in San Francisco. Now before you start envying me and thinking I spent those days drinking Napa Valley wine and riding cable cars, I have to share with you that while I was there, California had drought-ending rain and flooding that made travel difficult at best.
And then I have to tell you I was there to officiate at the funeral of my Uncle Doug. I was there to help begin to clear out his house; no easy task. Doug was a hoarder. Yes, just like you’ve seen on TV.
He had bequeathed me all of his possessions; an act that I had to remind myself was done out of love and not some kind of punishment. I spent each day sorting through the debris field. Although I had an idea of what I was getting into, nothing could really prepare me for stepping into his house and into utter chaos.
Trash was everywhere. Clothes were piled up around magazines and newspapers and the stacks were at least four feet high. The air was stale and dust bunnies had morphed into giant rabbits, making it hard to breathe. As I made my way through the debris field, I discovered another reason for the difficulty in breathing – rodents had left little offerings all over the place.
And then there were the books. I come from a long line of bookaholics, but Doug had outdone us all. I estimated that he had 20,000 books and then some. I understand that hoarding is a form of mental illness. It’s the inability to let go of anything because “I might need that someday.” But someday never comes and all the things pile up and soon take over your life until there is no life left.
I loved and adored my uncle. I still do. I haven’t been able to really grieve his death because I’m still grieving his life. He hung on so tightly to his possessions that he never got to really enjoy them. They got in his way and eventually they imprisoned him. Because he held onto everything, nearly everything had been destroyed in his house. As the inheritor of my uncle’s “possessions,” I can tell you that you really can’t take it with you.
There is nothing wrong with having things and enjoying them. I like my stuff, but in the end, that’s all it is, stuff. Jesus told us that he came so that we might “have life and have it abundantly.” He didn’t say anything about the abundant possessions. Those aren’t the things that give life. I saw my uncle swallowed up by his possessions, sucking the life out of him. It sucked the life out of me in the short time I was there.
Several years ago, Marie Kondo wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The premise was that you go through the house and determine which objects in your house “spark joy.” If there is no joy to be found, then let it go.
What sparks joy for you? What is standing in your way of discovering joy and the abundant life? And what do you need to let go to allow joy to come in? What sparks joy for me is my family, friends, hanging out with my corgis. And what sparks eternal joy is my relationship with Jesus.
I don’t have to hold on tightly to Jesus and keep Christ tucked away in case I might need a Savior sometime. I always need Jesus. Every day I was away, I had the family of Christ praying for me, and those prayers sustained me. Jesus is my constant companion who holds me – and you – tighter than any than anything we can hold onto.
Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The Rev. Cynthia Taylor is the pastor of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.