What We Really Own

Posted by on Sep 19, 2013

By: Elizabeth Hankins

Sometimes I think about this, this idea of what’s really ours. Especially as a mom trying to filter and pass along lasting values to my kids. And as a disciple of Jesus trying best I can to wrap my brain around what’s in his heart. After all, how many times a day do I say things like “my this” or “my that”? And is it just me, or does it not seem like the more and bigger our “my” collections grow, the more impressive and important we seem to others?

Like millions in our Western hemisphere, I’ve spent years rolling out of bed and pulling on clothes before docking in a school carpool line where I coax sleepy children to unload themselves and do good things for the next seven hours. Then I’ve gulped coffee, done some work, shopped for stuff before retrieving those noble kids and coming back to a home complete with running water, electricity and the sacred chatter of people I love and do life with. It’s a great life – and I’m seriously grateful…

But back to the question about what is it I really own. What do I have that belongs to me?
I’ve pondered this most often upon returning from South Sudan. The contrasts are starkest then. I have clean water. Mostly my sisters and friends there don’t. They typically walk miles for it. I sleep in a bed in a house with rooms. They often lay on mud floors of teensy, crowded huts atop reedy mats. I have a closet of clothes. In most villages, garments, when present, are sparse, ragged.

The list spins on. So do my thoughts. I live in a world of universal excess. And my sister-friends and their families don’t even have what they need.

But more I think about it, what comes clear is I really don’t own what I call mine. Oh sure, I claim (much to my kids’ mortification) the clankety, (mind you, paid-for), Suburban that prevails despite two wrecks and daily-more-pungent odors from toting toddlers-that-somehow-became-sweaty adolescents over the eToro past decade. And I’d say the usual JC Penney jeans and major on-sale t-shirts I pull on nearly every morning were mine, mostly because they fit but also the conversation about what’s really ours maybe should stop short of disowning what covers us. That could get a little scary if we got literal in that department.

But my point is I don’t own any THING at all. Not really. I was squeezed and stretched into this world, a wailing and empty-handed little alien. Someday I’ll pass out of here taking nothing in these same hands that now touch and hold a zillion things and people all the time.

Nothing really belongs to me.

Not my beautiful, loving, patient husband (when I get to heaven, bet I learn he was this earth-grounded archangel who did really adventurous and cool things before being commissioned and then pre-awarded major celestial kudos for enduring me). Not our awesome one-of-a-kind kids. Not our precious friends, our house, our church. Not my car, my computer. Not any of the people or things we pretty much count on to always be there.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”*

Yep. We don’t really possess a thing. Human lives, objects, whatever – they’re for sure within our reach, in our midst. We may treasure them, hold them, watch over them… give them away.

But since we didn’t tote them in and we won’t be hauling them out, we don’t really own them.

Which sort of leads to two thoughts.

First, the quest for superfluous stuff seems pretty much meaningless. Like running some wicked-hard marathon that promises but never delivers a finish line and a winner. Second – and here’s the game-changer – we may not truly own things, but we do sort of own what we leave behind.

I like that thought – a lot.

What we do and share and pass along…well, it matters. Whether we’re caring to meet physical needs or spiritual ones, we can offer lasting investments in human lives. We get to use what’s temporarily granted us, use it to live out Jesus’ good news in ways that bless and come alongside.

Actually, I love this reality.

We can liberally give away kind, generous words, healing words, hopeful ones. We can offer resources, not as charity because we have things and others don’t, but because sharing resets injustice’s skewed equilibrium while reminding us of what really matters.

And it’s good to be reminded of what matters.

Oh, and we can go and partner with friends living in hard places. Not because we have the answers and they don’t, but because God uses community to shape us all in ways that help us look more like his Son. Whether it’s caring for a sick relative or volunteering time in an inner-city school or landing in a South Sudanese village to share work and life and stories, what we leave behind can be so much better than the stuff we try to acquire that we’ll never even take with us.

I think it may be one of those weird-to-our-minds-upside-down things Jesus talked about. Like the rich are poor and the poor are rich. Like losing your life and then it turns up again in some whole new way.

Like realizing you’re just passing through here and what goes through your hands and life is mostly about what you leave behind and give away.

That thought makes me want to live in a whole new way.

* 1 Timothy 6:7

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