Where Do You Store What Matters?
Looking for a reality check? Try dropping in on an auction at a self-storage facility. When someone can’t pay the rent on the storage, the contract calls for the items in storage to be sold at auction so the landlord can recover the cost of lost income from the unit. I am sure it is exciting for bidders to try their luck at salvage by buying the contents of a storage unit sight unseen. But when the locks are cut and the door slide opens, someone has lost their dream of hanging on to the stuff they stored.
The contents may be personal treasures like a family Bible, or a grandmother’s beloved set of china. The contents may also be a mildewing mattress and a pile of old books and clothes. Rarely are real treasures involved. But whatever it is, on the day the boxes went into the unit, these were items that someone wanted to hang on to badly enough to rent a storage unit.
Helping people hang on to more stuff than they can fit in their houses is big business. The Self Storage Association estimates that Americans spend approximately $20 billion each year to store stuff. This number is up 81 percent since 2000 and is rising. Having more than once stored all I own, I am not knocking the industry. When Victoria and I spent two months on a honeymoon trip to Nepal, we left our things is storage. Later we stored all our belongings for six months while hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. And we even stored about half our belongings for my three years of seminary. So, I well understand and support the idea of self-storage.
Then I come back to the auctions. From the heartbreaking to the pathetic, each self storage unit lost to auction is a glimpse into a hope that could not be sustained.
In the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel Jesus says plainly that, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus goes on to tell a parable about self storage. He describes a rich man who has had such a bumper crop that he no longer has enough barns to store all his land has produced. The man decides to build larger barns so that he can live for many years off the fat of the land.
The man in the parable is convinced that he finally has it made. He finally has enough stuff to sit back and relax. Jesus warns that Judgment Day could come that very night. Or as Jesus subtly puts it, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
When it comes to the end of life, stuff is just stuff. And in the meantime, any stuff you own will not, in and of itself, make you happier. The picture on the big flat screen TV may be nice and sharp, but that alone will not bring you any extra happiness. The Hummer may turn heads in traffic, but the driver isn’t a better person for owning that car.
“The one who dies with the most toys wins” makes a funny bumper sticker, yet we know that trying to die with the most toys is not the best strategy for a fulfilling life. Even still, the pursuit of more and better stuff has a lure that is hard to resist. If I only drove a nicer car. If I only owned a boat. If I only had an X-Box with Rock Band and all the pieces of equipment that goes with it. Stuff is great, but more and better possessions are not the key to a happy or good life. They end up possessing their owner if her or she does not guard against that possibility.
The rich man in Jesus’ parable who could not learn the lesson. He based his happiness on acquiring enough wealth to earn a chance to relax, eat drink and be merry. But what if you could already tap into that happiness? Wouldn’t it be better to find joy before you were sitting on a mountain of money? After all, some of us could come into a million or two. Shy of hitting the lottery, none of us is likely to land on a pile of gold.
Jesus offers a way out. Jesus offers a way to peace with your stuff that works whether you have a lot or a little. Jesus’ answer is to realize that your life is not made up of the abundance of possessions. Don’t even bother going down that road he warns us, it only leads to ruin.
Get the stuff you need. Take care of yourself and your family. But don’t bet your happiness or theirs on accumulating just the right stuff. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Right now, as at the end of your days, what matters more than stuff is making peace with yourself and working on relationships with family and friends. And yes, most importantly, making room for your relationship with God. These are investments of your time, energy and money that pay off. Work on these relationships rather than amassing possessions. These relationships with family, friends and God will pay off whether your life becomes a financial success or not. For life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.
What matters is these relationships with family, with friends and with God. These relationships in fact last into the life eternal. It is these relationships and the love that binds them which you can take to heaven. So start storing up love now. That’s what really matters. As for the stuff you are accumulating, let some of it go.
The text above is my religion column for today's Tribune & Georgian.
Labels: religion column