One of the things about holidays is that you have to keep on (& on, & on!) packing and unpacking ‘stuff’, the clothes to the washing after a break, then washed folded & back to drawers & cupboards; the toys repackaged in order to fir into nooks & crannies in the car then all sorted out again when we get back into their right places and boxes and bags; wires and plugs and batteries continually found and returned; medicines, bathroom things, small bottles of decanted shampoo all having to be packed away again as we near the end of the summer break; tupperware with small amounts of oats or sugar, or small jars of cooking oil to be reunited with their ‘at home’ storage tubs & bottles; camping equipment cleaned and packed, cleaned and put away, borrowed and returned…
We have just come back from a wonderful weekend staying with friends, so today (after a night of little to no sleep) we are setting to again unpacking, getting the washing machine on, and trying to make sure everything we had with us is going back to where it is meant to be. We have also left such a generous, tidy, organised, peaceful & life-giving home from home that to be honest coming back was a sharp contrast! (and a rather uncomfortable one!)
Truth is, we have a lot of ‘stuff’ between us, and with the nesting/hoarding tendencies of our girls, and the busyness of life (and yes, the low priority I give to housework) our house today feels very full, and much more cluttered than I would like to become content with. It’s not at all a sudden revelation but I guess right now I’m feeling like tackling some of it… we found our bedroom under the piles of washing last night & that feels so much better, today Andrew is putting up shelves in the utility room and I have made a list (I know – it will all end in tears & exhaustion!!!) and am tackling some clearing out of those neglected corners of the house.
Clearing out, sorting and tidying are activities that face a lot of opposition in this family. It is not simply the expected resistance of kids not willing to join in and help, but rather the stress tidying causes by the change it brings, and the way that it unsettles (for years sometimes… I am still being asked about certain soft toys that have mysteriously left the house, am still being told off & distrusted for persuading them to part with certain, no longer played with toys years ago.).
What I observe in my girls about their ‘stuff’ is an extreme, but it is there to a lesser extent for the rest of us too I’m sure. They seem to feel safe when their things are around them; seeing their things (even if to anyone else it looks like the aftermath to a burglary) and walking through them, having them always available to check, touch, touch base with somehow grounds them and gives them a stronger sense of place and belonging and how they fit into the world around them. It’s true of all their things, and it can make it very hard for them to part with things – even wrappers from things, or receipts, or grown out of clothes- because they are part of the story of who they are and where they are, and have been.
Our ‘stuff’ is something we talk about often in our family life of faith. The challenges of the Bible to hold lightly to earthly treasure and set our hearts on heavenly treasure; to see things as a gift not a right; to give generously and sacrificially not just to give or share what doesn’t matter to us, or what is leftover; the challenge of living fairly in an unjust and unequal world- these challenges are often wrestled with together.
In tears at bedtime… T – ‘When I die can panda come to Jesus’s house too?’,
‘I’m not sure T, what do you think?’
T – ‘If Jesus loves me he knows I need panda’
‘Well that’s true, he loves you so much, and knows exactly what you need. Maybe you won’t need panda quite as much in His house?’
T – ‘(more sobbing) I love panda, I want him to come too. We don’t take our toys do we?’
Sometimes the conversations just come and go. Sometimes Andrew & I challenge things a little for all of us and we try to clear out to reduce the sheer amount of the things we are trying to hold onto. Of course sometimes there are specific challenges, a person in need, or our desire to respond to news reports; the discipline of the seasons of lent and advent to focus our attention & our search for groundedness or security away from things towards friendship with Jesus. I am sure, living in the here and now, our need to be challenged about our need for things will remain, month by month, year by year and Andrew & I will need to keep prayerfully & gently finding ways to help us all embrace those challenges and so find joy and freedom in knowing a little bit more about the depth of security and belonging we have in Jesus.
Tonight I was reading Job’s story to T (it’s considered one of the oldest parts of the written Bible – yes we’re still exploring lots of questions about the Bible!) and we were struck by the repeating motif:
You give and take away, blessed be your name
Job lost all his ‘things’, he even lost family, and the respect and kindness of friends.
And through it he recognised
God as the giver,
God as the source,
God as the one who sustains
and the one in whose presence & care our lives find their meaning.
‘Job was so brave wasn’t he, he kept on trusting God. What would you say to God if you were Job?’
T -‘God, I need you to give me everything I need!’