Jan 23, 2013
Today’s guest blogger is Allison Vesterfelt, who writes today about the role that our possessions play (or don’t play) in keeping us from God:
This idea that stuff keeps us from God is really prevalent in the Christian community.
And you would think that I, a woman who quit her full-time job at twenty-six, moved out of her apartment, and sold all of her "stuff" to go on a road trip across the United States — a woman who just finished writing a book called Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013) would be on the "stuff is bad" bandwagon. But I’m not.
Or at least I don’t think I am. You tell me.
A few years ago a friend asked me this question: "What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about anything — money, what other people thought about you, whether or not it was all going to "work out" in the end — what would you do? My answer was that I would quit my job, travel around the country, and write a book about it. She asked me what exactly was stopping me from doing those things, and immediately, a list came to my mind.
It was stupid stuff, really. Stuff like a car payment and a house full of appliances and furniture I wasn’t exactly sure where I would put if I took off on some kind of whimsical journey across the country.
But in addition to the silly things, there were also legitimate concerns. I had student loans, first of all, that constituted a pretty hefty chunk of my monthly paycheck. I had a full-time job, one with decent pay and benefits, not something to turn your nose up at in the current economy. And then there was wondering how my parents would feel about the whole thing. I was an adult, and I could make my own decisions, but there was always this question in the back of my mind:
If I don’t take success seriously, am I compromising the legacy they worked to leave for me?
During the whole decision-making process I was really inspired by the story of the Rich Young Ruler. I’m guessing you’re familiar with the story, but the gist of it is this: A wealthy young man comes to Jesus and says (my paraphrase): Look, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do in order to be a good Christian and citizen, but it feels like my life is missing something. What should I do now?
Jesus tells the man to sell everything he owns, and give it to the poor. The passage says the man walked away sad, because he was a man of great wealth.
I have to be honest. At twenty-six, I felt very much like the Rich Young Ruler.
I had done all the "right" stuff to be a good Christian and contributing citizen. And for all outside appearances, it seemed like I was doing pretty well. But it also felt like I was missing something. I had a nice car, a great job, and had just been approved for a home loan, but the whole thing felt sort of — I don’t know — empty. The suggestion of selling all my things and giving it to the "poor" felt to me about how it did to the Young Ruler.
But I was also feeling desperate.
I was ready to try anything to feel alive again.
So I did it. I quit my job. So did my friend. We both sold our stuff, and we lived in my car for six months as we visited all 50 States. Over the course of that time, we experienced what it feels like to go without, but we also experienced a richness we didn’t even know what was possible. I’m not talking about a spiritual richness (although we experienced that too).
I’m talking about gifts. Physical, tangible ones.
I’m talking about meals beyond our wildest imaginations and beds more comfortable than we had ever slept in, and I’m also talking about sleeping on floors and under the stars, eating chili out of tupperware containers.
I’m talking about how God was merciful enough to teach us to live with out, and generous enough to give us good gifts.
The story of the Rich Young Ruler is followed in the gospels by the verse that so many Christians like to use as evidence that "rich" people have a harder time getting into heaven. It says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matt 19:24). I’m not a Bible scholar, but when I weigh this passage with my experience, I don’t think it means that people with money have a hard time getting into "heaven…"
That’s not how I see heaven, or God, or nice things.
What I think it means is that my experience of God’s Kingdom, the place where justice is served and things are put right because He sits on His throne, the place that I believe exists both here on Earth, and in an eternal sense, is largely dependent on understanding my need for him. The more I know I need him, the more I experience the realities of His Kingdom.
It makes very simple sense, if you think about it. Our need for Him points us to His existence.
So yes, I wrote a book called Packing Light, and I’ll tell you all day long how letting go of physical things have helped to point me to the realities of Jesus. But I don’t think Jesus hates our stuff, or that stuff keeps us from God. I think that gives our stuff too much credit.
What do you think? Does stuff keep us from God?
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Allison is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.