Did Jesus really say we can’t be his disciple if we don’t give up all our possessions (Luke 14:33)? Think how hard it would be if we did that. How would you hold your breakfast cereal? How would you brush your teeth in the morning? If that’s what he meant, there would be a lot more empty seats in church today. But I don’t think that’s what he meant.
I like what John Wesley said: We need enough to support a basic life – adequate food, clothing, and shelter; basic medical care; a well-rounded education; savings and investments enough to support us in retirement. Jesus wanted us to have abundant life (John 10:10), and I think he wanted us to have the resources necessary to provide that life for ourselves and everyone else. No, I don’t think Jesus meant that we should literally give up all our possessions.
What he meant for us to give up, I think, is our attachment to our possessions. He knew that if we set our hearts on riches, we become trapped by desires that destroy life (1 Tim. 6:9-10). It’s one thing to give away all our possessions; it’s more difficult to rid ourselves of the desire for possessions, the deep-down tendency to define ourselves by what we earn or have or do rather than by who we are independently of our possessions. Owning less is great; wanting less is even better.
Celinne Da Costa, writing in Forbes magazine, told of her decision to leave her job to travel around the world, living out of a suitcase. Three months into her new life, she wrote:
It took me 25+ years of accumulating material goods to grasp just how much they can weigh me down when it comes to the pursuit of my dreams. . . . By becoming overly attached to the things that we like but don’t necessarily need, we become their slaves. Maintaining, replacing, and upgrading all of this stuff consumes a ridiculous amount of our time [and resources], and as a result, we become distracted from thinking about and pursuing our real goals. (Forbes, “Can Having Less Possessions Help You Focus on What’s Important?” 28 September 2016)
When the old catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”, the answer is not, “To accumulate the most stuff before you die.” Our possessions not only come to possess us; they rob us of our ability to hear anything more than ourselves, to connect with something greater than everything else. “If your heart turns away [from God],” Moses warned, “and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, . . . you shall perish” (Deut. 30:17-18). When possessions take priority over our relationship with God and our neighbors, we lose our soul, the heart of who we are.
But in returning and rest you shall be made whole, the prophet assures us (Isa. 30:15). We all need a little R&R, a little returning to our center and resting there. The question is, can we do it in the life we live today? I believe we can, and we begin best by focusing not on what we have but on what we don’t have, on our emptiness, on the unmet need, the unfulfilled hope, the unanswered question. Living intimately with those things without running from them is our best opportunity to commune with God. It’s our best entry into the abundant life God offers.
So here’s what I invite you to do. Answer three questions: 1) What is your greatest need? 2) What is your greatest hope? and 3) What is your most urgent question? Then live with those questions and your responses. Listen with them in prayer. Stay open to what they stir in you, unflinching at what you hear. Talk about them and explore them with anyone who will truly listen. And above all, be patient, remembering that “Good comes to those who wait for the Lord, to the soul that seeks God” (Lam. 3:25).