Over Christmas break, my daughter Rebecca came with me to the church for a day and helped me clean out my office. And what a project it was! Rebecca took out everything from my drawers that had accumulated over the last 5 years, with little to no time to sort. At the end of the day, I filled 2 bags of paper for recycling and 2 bags of trash. What a good feeling to get rid of junk! In the process of cleaning out, I found things that had been hidden which I have since been able to use. What a good feeling to discover unexpected gems!
In the article “Self-Storage Nation,” Tom Vanderbilt says the United States “now possesses some 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage. All this space is contained in nearly 40,000 facilities owned and operated by more than 2,000 entrepreneurs. What this translates into, apart from a lot of stationary bikes kept behind padlocked metal doors, is an industry that now exceeds the revenues of Hollywood. One in 11 American households, according to a recent survey, owns self-storage space—an increase of some 75 percent from 1995. An obvious suspect, is American consumerism.” No other country in the world spends as much on consumer goods.
And yet, a recent United Nations Report found that despite the economic growth in the United States, people are not particularly happy; in fact, the U.S. is in 18th place, and our happiness levels seem to be falling. We, in this country are considered among the richest in the world. We have everything we need. And we can buy most anything we want. But, if we are honest, we would admit that despite all that we have, it still feels as if something is missing. We who are rich, still suffer from a kind of spiritual poverty. We go in search of something to fill the empty place inside of us. This search too often leads to addictions and accumulations in attics, basements, garages, and storage spaces.
Lent is a season in the church calendar that invites us not to add on more but to give up and to do with less, in order that we might allow room for God in our lives. This Lent at our church, we will be focusing intentionally on letting go of junk, so that we might discover gems. We will be reading and discussing the book Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption by Jeff Manion. We will be meeting in small groups in the homes of church members, to allow honest conversation and fun fellowship. The groups will begin meeting the first week of March and run through mid-April. They are meeting at various places and at various days and times in hopes to allow everyone to participate. Look for sign-ups this month in the church narthex as well as on the church web-site. (You can click here to sign up) I hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to take the first step on the journey toward contentment.
I don’t know if you noticed but throughout Advent on the table just outside the sanctuary doors where you come in and get your bulletin, there was a wooden nativity set. The wooden carved statues of shepherds, kings, angels, Mary and Joseph were stunning. The only thing that was missing was baby Jesus. We could not find him anywhere as we were setting up decorations. I thought that was okay, given that it was Advent and we were waiting for Jesus to come and I was sure he would be found. But, on the day before Christmas Eve I realized still no baby Jesus. Jean Henderson brought a baby Jesus figure from home just to fill the manger for the night. Where had baby Jesus gone? Had someone stolen in? Could we replace him?
When we were putting away Christmas decorations, we took advantage of the opportunity to get rid of junk and clean out boxes. And guess what? We found baby Jesus. Where was he? He was wrapped in a paper towel, in a box, hidden away in the deep recesses of a closet. We missed the most important part of Christmas, just because we had so much junk we could not find him.
I think there is a lesson here, maybe even an invitation: This Lent, let’s clean out some junk--in boxes and in our lives and in our hearts; and let’s make room for God. Who knows what gems we will find.