One of the “perks” of being a pastor’s kid was having to attend the nightly devotions especially when we were living overseas. Seven year-old me and my six year-old brother used to line up all our stuffed toys on the couch so they could “listen in”. Mama would lead a song. Before reading a verse from the Bible, Papa would tell a story. One of my favorite stories went something like this:
Once upon a time, there were three ships who were out on the open sea with lots of people and cargo aboard. When they were a day away from their destination, they encounter a storm. The crew in all three ships had to keep themselves from capsizing or sinking.
“Throw all unnecessary cargo overboard!”, shouted somebody in the first ship. The crew started to take the luggage away from the passengers but the people refused to part with their things. The first ship sank inevitably and quickly – with all of its riches and people.
“Throw all unnecessary cargo overboard!”, shouted somebody in the second ship. The crew started to take the luggage away from the passengers. Some of the passengers, seeing how quickly the first ship sank, willingly threw their luggage to the sea themselves. Others were not so willing and refused to let go of their things. The second ship capsized eventually – with half its riches and all of its people.
The third ship was full of Christians 🙂 “Throw all unnecessary cargo overboard!”, shouted somebody in the third ship and all the passengers let go of all their baggage and let it be flung overboard.
*Pause* I have to note that when we got to this section of the story, Papa started to enumerate things we had. Papa started to name all the stuffed toys as they were getting thrown out of the ship:
“Snow! Puchou! Heart!…” – all got thrown overboard.
*Gasp* At this point, we started to panic. You could imagine how vividly my father was telling this horrible, horrible story. “Heart” was my brother’s blue stuffed dog toy, with hearts drawn on the bottom of his paws. (My brother loved dogs but was allergic to them – which would explain why we had quite a few stuffed dogs growing up.) “Puchou” was a small dalmatian toy puppy that sang “How much is that doggy in the window?” when squeezed.
“Not Heart, please!” My brother and I cried out. We must’ve looked ridiculously anxious by then because the story took a slightly lighter turn:
“Send someone to rope Heart back into the boat!” a voice shouted amidst the raging storm.
“And Puchou too please!” we pleaded.
“And Puchou!” someone cried over the blustery winds.
“And Snow too please!” we pleaded. Snow was my white teddy bear. Our Papa was trying to make a point here, but perhaps he figured we’ll get it even if he lets this one slide.
“Bring all the stuffed toys back” someone on the boat said with a sigh. With all unnecessary cargo gone, the third ship survives the storm and gets to safe harbor.
I love that story. I never forgot it. Our parents always tried to be open to us about the gravity of our situation on the most child-like level possible. The point of this particular story is simple enough: Stuff weighs you down. There are three things I remember picking up from that story:
- We could not afford to BRING lots of stuff everywhere. Our parents were trying hard to wean us off of stuff early because they knew that it just wasn’t possible to lug around all of it when we had no surety of how long we were staying in one place. We never received permanent residence while in the missions field. The more stuff we accumulated, the harder it was to let go when we had to. So it was better to stay unattached. There were seasons when I could fit what seemed like my entire life in a backpack because that’s all I was allowed to bring. You just learn to travel light and travel well.
- We could not afford to BUY more stuff. Heart the Dog was a luxury we had only because we didn’t have to pay for him. Most of our toys came from kind-hearted donations. There were days when our monetary support came so late, my brother and I had to eat 50c sausages and eggs for a week straight, while our parents would just skip meals. Thank God, I have never starved, we had what we needed when we needed it. We didn’t need toys though. It became clear to us early on that we will not be able to have what many other kids had. It’s frustrating but I learned to tell myself that other kids have stuff, we had stories.
- Ultimately, we could not afford to VALUE stuff, over God and over people. Like the ship who had to throw stuff away in order to save people, we had to learn to keep in mind what is most important. We had to understand early, to the best of our ability, why we were in the field in the first place and not somewhere more comfortable. Our parents didn’t sugarcoat it for us or water it down as something else. We were there to follow God, nothing less and nothing extra.
Was all this too much for a child to carry? Perhaps. But even then I trusted Jesus to carry it for me. Maybe it was easier to embrace this mindset as a child, needing very little and knowing I had no choice but to accept what was decided for me. We lived minimally because we couldn’t afford otherwise. That was that.
Then we moved to America or as Elle Woods called it, “land of the free… gift with purchase“. Fast forward to 2016 and I’ve officially never lived anywhere continuously as long as I have in Los Angeles. I’ve also never accumulated as much stuff as I’ve had in Los Angeles.
As I write this, Miguel and I are undergoing a big transition in our lives that requires packing up our things and taking inventory of what we have. It turns out we have too many. Sure, it’s not like we’re loaded but for someone who grew up living with as little baggage as possible, I am overwhelmed by the fact that I even have this task at hand. I didn’t even realize how much stuff we had until we had to pack it all up and couldn’t fit it in a small storage unit. Yes, we need to have public storage now. Oh dear, my father would have laughed at the absurdity of it all.
To put it in words that seven-year-old me would have understood: if we keep this up, we are in danger of sinking. It’s not the amount of stuff that concerns me, we really don’t have that much. What concerns me is the burden that we are now carrying and the distraction it has brought into our marriage, our lives and our ministry. It takes a lot to live in a L.A. – or so this city will convince you. We are letting ourselves be fooled no longer.
So now we are in the painful process of cutting out and letting go. I am relearning a way of life that was once second nature to me. We’re trying to shed everything in our lives that isn’t necessary or beneficial. (Although, I’m still pleading for Heart and Puchou or rather their grown-up counterparts to be kept on board – should God allow us). We want to store up treasures in heaven. We want that which frees us instead of weighing us down, that which is eternal and can not be held in public storage, that which moths and rust can not destroy.
We’re not running towards minimalism here. We’re running towards Christ. We’re getting rid of everything that hinders us and reaching for more of Christ. As working adults, we might be able to afford to bring and buy more things, but we can never afford to value anything on earth above being able to follow Jesus. It’s not going to be easy and it’ll take us a while but hey – sink or swim, right?
“Throw all unnecessary cargo overboard!”, the Captain calls.
What are you throwing overboard?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy,and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin 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 (NIV)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)