Lately, I have been feeling the need to simplify my life and settle my affairs – both materially and spiritually. This feeling may be related to the fact that I have as yet completed neither the updating of my will nor the projects I started for my spiritual legacy class. I keep asking myself:
What can I dispose of now that my family won’t have to deal with later?
What requires too much energy to sustain anymore?
In today’s Gospel story, a young man asks Jesus what more he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies: Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) We don’t know what the young man decided to do in the end, only that he went away sad because he had so many possessions. I can relate to that feeling.
All the material and spiritual baggage that I stored over the years sometimes weighs me down. With each household move that I made in the past, I took advantage of the opportunity to pare down my belongings and start fresh. However, the last major relocation is already seven years ago. I usually follow the rule that if I have not used something in a couple years, I let go of it – giving it away if it is still usable, throwing it away if not. (Why do I always think that someone else will want what I no longer do?)
This time, I am taking a serious look at those things that I have kept for more than 30 years: black-and-white negatives from my first photography courses, a favorite camel-hair winter coat that no longer fits, the bicycle that I no longer ride, postcards from art museums in places where I traveled, my books, etc. Yesterday, I had an unsettling experience with the winter coat and a couple other articles of clothing. I brought them to a consignment shop thinking that I would, as the Gospel says, sell them and give the money to the poor. The shop did not want my favorite things because they did not bear the appropriate designer labels! I felt I was also being judged by the clothing I wore into the shop. It was unsettling because I realized how many times I judge people on appearances and first impressions, and how many people must experience this kind of judgment every day.
The experience made me realize, too, that I even want to have a say in what happens to my favorite things when I die. Part of my unfinished estate business is the creation of a list of who should get my favorite things: the wall tapestries from Lesotho and Botswana, my books, my photographs, etc. I am beginning to see that it is not so much a gift to family and friends as an unwillingness to let go of material things that mean so much to me now.
It is not only material things that I need to let go. I am rethinking ways in which I spend my time, my current commitments, past events, and painful memories. Some memories need to be erased or allowed to fade. I have been filling my life with “projects” at church, spending more and more hours on them each week. Even though it is church work, it is not necessarily “God’s work.” I may be letting these commitments get in the way of my time to be with God. When I made a list of all the projects, I realized that they go way beyond what I was originally asked to do. My word for this week will be “Simplify”.