The interesting thing about being a moralist: the minute you point to something in the world and say “This is wrong”, hordes of people line up, waiting for that day when they can gleefully point out the fact that you have failed to live up to your own morality. Religious people know this all too well. But it isn’t just a religious thing. I think Al Gore has recently discovered this concept. They may say that hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue, but the sting is nevertheless strong – if you are the one who is falling short.
The cool thing about being a Christian, though, is that our failings actually validate our worldview. We believe that man is incurably corrupted, and we prove it at every turn. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Being at home with my children this week of spring break has made me acutely aware of one of my biggest failings, and one of my biggest regrets.
After my home and all my possessions were destroyed by fire, I became acutely aware of the message that Jesus was teaching us in Matthew 6, verses 19-34. Jesus says: “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”.
Jesus then goes on to tell us to quit worrying about “stuff”.
At the time, in prayer, I would repeat the “moth and rust” verse back to Jesus, reminding him jokingly that he forgot to add fire. But, the important thing was, I not only understood the meaning of the passage, i felt it in my very soul. We had lost everything, but we were OK. God provided, just as He said He would. I truly, for the first time, understood just how unimportant and temporal “stuff” is. I swore, I’d never look at it the same way again.
Here’s where it gets interesting. I had always given this concept lip service. Then, on that fateful day in July, 2002, God called my bluff. He wiped the slate clean. If I chose, i would no longer be slave to my “stuff”, because, well, I didn’t have any stuff anymore.
Oh, we were insured. But, here’s the thing: when we moved back into our house in January 2003, we had the perfect opportunity to live Matthew 6:19. We had used the insurance money to replace exactly that which we needed (even that is relative). We had all new furniture and appliances. We had five days’ clothing for each of us. We had rugs and decorations so our house almost looked like “a home”. We had three (the big-screen HDTV, and two little bedroom TVs), surround sound, computers. Everything brand new. Certainly, this was enough.
That’s what we told ourselves. We swore, now that we had learned how unimportant stuff was, we wouldn’t clutter our house again with stuff we didn’t need.
I look around me this week, and I see just how wrong we were. I’d swear we have more junk cluttering our house than we had before the fire. It snuck up on us; it’s not like we went on some shopping spree and brought home tons of junk at one time. We had said that God, ourselves, and what few possessions we started with were enough. We believed it.
We were lying.
To God, to others, to ourselves, I don’t know. And I know we didn’t mean to lie – we truly believed this time would be different. Yet, here we are; the folks from “Clean Sweep” would have a heyday with us. It’s actually hard to keep the house clean when there just isn’t room to put all the stuff “we had to have”.
But I’m not worried about the practical side of things. I’m worried about my soul, the soul of my wife, those of my children. We are obviously broken. We could say, “we’re turning over a new leaf, we’re going to get rid of all this stuff and just keep what we need to get by”, but, well we’ve been there, done that. The slate will never be as clean as it was when we moved back into our house.
It’s just so insidious, this little voice that whispers to you while you’re in a store or online. If only you had this, it whispers, you’d be happy. Wait till such and such sees that you’ve bought this! Won’t he be impressed! It doesn’t matter that you know intellectually that what the voice is telling you is untrue. Its seduction is stronger than any under-dressed temptress.
And then later, the voice mocks you as you’re trying to clean your overcluttered house, wondering to yourself why on earth you bought all this junk, and wondering where the happiness was you thought you’d have if only you possessed it.
So, all I can do is pray that I one day can ignore the voice. I could ask God to take away all my stuff and let me start over again, but I know how that story ends. Jesus always stressed that the heart was more important that the deed, and now I know why. I feel trapped within my own evil heart – and I know that even that feeling is of the Enemy, because no one who is in Christ is trapped. I just don’t know how to let Him fix this.
So yeah, I’ve been in a rotten mood. The Unblinking Mirror, if you have the courage to look into it, has a way of doing that to you. The only consolation I have s that this whole thing reminds me of my second favorite episode of Mary Tyler Moore (the first being the “Chuckles the Clown” episode).
Ted has a heart attack. He survives, but he has a whole new outlook on life. He stops to smell the roses, much to the consternation of his co-workers. But his attitude finally rubs off on them. When the episode ends, they are all admiring a sunset. But Ted asks them why they are wasting their time; he’s back to being the old Ted.
So am I. And I hate it.