by Kim Gonia
I know a thing or two about getting rid of my possessions. I’ve moved across oceans and across the country several times, with a family in tow, so I’ve had plenty of experience sorting through all we possess, deciding what to keep, and giving the rest away.
When my husband and I moved to Chicago a year and a half ago, we sold a four-bedroom house in the suburbs and only moved what would fit into a two-bedroom apartment. In the first days of gutting the house, I lost track of how many car loads of small items and clothing went to Goodwill. Then we spent an entire day sorting boxes of old files and journals and papers of all kinds – our son used the paper to feed a huge fire in the fireplace, and our parents kept two shredders busy, all the while my constant refrain, ‘Get rid of it!’ kept us focused. Then came the day we piled all the furniture that wasn’t coming with us, along with the stuff from the shed and the garage into the driveway for one last big load to Goodwill. I was overwhelmed by how much stuff was still in our house.
Ten years earlier we had moved from Madagascar to Denver. Our possessions then fit in 9 suitcases, 12 boxes we shipped from Madagascar and maybe 10 other boxes stored here in the US. Plus a glider rocker and one table. For a family of five. Mind you, we had gotten rid of plenty of possessions before we left Madagascar, mostly in an auction run by our former
students for the surrounding community. Every item of clothing, every plastic container, every unused toiletry item. The auction took a couple of days.
Each time I move I vow to collect less, to live with less so I don’t have to sort it or give it away the next time I move. Each time. You see, as much as I like the concept, I have to admit that for me, living simply is easier said than done. I have an attachment to things I can’t simply ignore.
Turns out that Jesus has a few things to say about possessions and our attachment to them. In our gospel reading for today, Jesus does not mince words on the topic. He tells the crowd following him that they must hate the ones they love, and that they must take up what they would rather avoid, if they want to be his disciple. Then he tells two short parables to make it all concrete, to make sure they understand what he is saying, then brings it home with these heart-stopping words: Therefore, everyone of you who does not take leave of all you possess, cannot be my disciple.
It is enough to make us want to cover our ears and not listen for the simple reason that we are surrounded by so much stuff … and our days are packed full of so many people and events … and our lives overflow with opportunities and possibilities. For these reasons and more, we find these to be extremely difficult and challenging words that we would rather ignore, or failing that, simply choose to believe that Jesus is over-speaking … that Jesus is being outrageous to get our attention but doesn’t really mean what he is saying.
But Jesus does mean what he is saying. Jesus makes it clear that nothing can get in the way of following him. Nothing. Not people – husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, parents, children, or people around us we don’t yet know. Not studies or meetings, not reading or writing, not planning and preparing. Not homes or cars. Not the stuff that fills our homes or cars. Not the stuff of life. Not life itself. Nothing.
Of course the problem with this is that we possess a great deal – a great number of things and relationships, as well as thoughts and ideas – which is why we cringe. And yet, the problem with our habit of possessing does not lie in the items themselves, the objects of our possession. The problem lies in our attachment to what we possess. You see, when we are attached to some thing or some one, when we are attached to an idea or a feeling … to a particular way of being or doing or engaging in the world, we are not attached to God. We cannot be attached to God.
Now, just to lay all my cards on the table … I have been married longer than some of you have been alive to a man to whom I am quite attached. I have three children I adore and for whom I would probably lay down my life. Again, I’m quite attached. I have worked and sacrificed and suffered like you to answer my call to ordination, so I am quite attached to the notion of
actually being ordained after I graduate next May.
In addition, years of counseling, CPE, and spiritual direction have taught me to pay attention to
what makes me tick and what triggers me. I have learned to state my needs and speak with my own voice. I have a pretty good idea of what makes me angry and how I express that anger. Likewise with sadness and happiness, jealousy and fatigue. So I am quite attached to my basic personality.
I am attached to the comfort of a daily routine. I look forward to coffee to begin my day and a glass of wine at the end of the day, to meals with my husband, regular sleep, frequent exercise and meditation. I am attached to experiences, particularly my experiences of growing up in Japan and living for ten years in Madagascar, followed by ten years in Denver. Those experiences are part of who I am and I keep them close to me.
The point is that we all live with many attachments, large and small. We are experts by this time in our lives, of being attached to objects and people and experiences. We hold on to our attachments without really considering the consequences, because, quite simply, they make us feel good. Attached, we have an identity that brings us comfort and eases the anxiety that creeps in when we question who we are or our place in the world. Attached, we feel safe and secure. Attached, we feel valued and appreciated.
But it’s all an illusion. Our attachment to these possessions – tangible and intangible, people, places, and things – cannot provide us with the safety and identity, value and purpose, love and meaning we crave. Not really. The truth is that our attachments are shallow and transitory … even the really substantial ones like life-long relationships, and really solid houses and cars and furniture, and life-changing trips to amazing places. They don’t actually last. More significantly, our attachments get in the way of doing what we are really called to do and who we were created to be – people attached to nothing and no one, but God.
Thankfully God doesn’t wait for us to figure out how to give up our possessions and be attached to God. Instead God comes and attaches God’s self to us.
Scripture tells us of God’s attachment to us throughout time, an attachment that began with creation and did not falter through floods and wilderness wanderings and exiles. An attachment that endured no matter how far God’s people turned from God. Then came the day when God’s attachment to us made manifest in the birth of Jesus, and in his life and ministry of healing and
teaching. Yet the most profound sign of God’s attachment to us is found in the cross. For in dying on the cross, Christ embodied God’s unwavering attachment to us and made it possible
for God to vividly demonstrate through Christ’s resurrection, that nothing can undo God’s attachment to us. Not even death.
I know that I will struggle all my life not to let my attachment to things I have, to people I love, and to experiences that define me, get in the way of what I was created to do – love God, and be attached to God. Because I find it so difficult to be attached to God myself, I am beyond grateful that God chooses to be attached to people like you and me, unilaterally and unconditionally.
Each time I dip my fingers in the baptismal waters or trace the sign of the cross on my body, I remember and give thanks for God’s attachment to me. Each time I come to worship and gather around the table, I remember and give thanks for God’s attachment to all people. We have done nothing to make God’s attachment to us happen, and nothing we do or fail to do, can unravel God’s attachment to us. It just is and always will be. Thanks be to God.
So may you go from here today, momentarily set free from your attachments, and strengthened by the knowledge of God’s abiding attachment to you. Amen.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – Luke 14:25-33