Care Instructions for a Life Worth Living
Stuff Cannot Belong to Me
To an adult, it’s ironic when a two-year-old says, “Mine.” Adults know that two-year-olds don’t earn any of their stuff. It is all provided for them. It is a gift from someone much larger and wiser than they. Nevertheless, two-year-olds get extremely attached to their stuff. If someone tries to take something, that item suddenly becomes their favorite stuff. Two-year-olds can be so deluded, can’t they?
Consider a few statements from Scripture:
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
“Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:18)
“‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8)
I have been around churches for a long time. Do you know what the most frequently asked question about tithing is? “Do I have to tithe on the net or on the gross?” Translation: “How little can I give and not get God mad at me?” The implied question is: “How much of my stuff can I keep and not get in trouble?” King David once said to God, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” (1 Chronicles 29:14) He doesn’t ask, “What’s the least amount I have to give and not get God ticked off?” He says, “Who am I, that I should be able to give like this? I want to use my stuff to build your kingdom, not my kingdom.” One day we will give an account for what God has entrusted to us. That can be an occasion of great joy or of deep regret. One of the most amazing statements about the early church is that “there were no needy persons among them.” If they had stuff, they shared it. There had never been a community like this.
Yale theologian Miroslav Volf says that there are two kinds of richness in life: “richness of having” and “richness of being.” Richness of having is an external circumstance. Richness of being is an inner experience. We usually focus on richness of having. We think true happiness lies there. Our language reflects this when the “haves” keep popping up in our thoughts:
If only I could have my dream house . . .
If only I could have a higher salary . . .
When I have a better car . . .
When I have enough money for the ultimate vacation . . .
We seek richness of having, but what we really want is richness of being. We want to be grateful, joyful, content, free from anxiety, and generous. We scramble after richness of having because we think it will produce richness of being, but it does not. In the sense of “having,” we can become rich by long hours, shrewd investments, and a lot of luck. But it is possible to have a barn full of money and a boatload of talent and movie star good looks and still be poor. The bottomless pit of our desires will never be satisfied. No matter how much we have, we remain what Volf calls “not-enough people.” For not-enough people, there exists no lasting soul satisfaction. On the other hand, we can have very little and yet be rich. A rich soul experiences life differently. It experiences a sense of gratitude for what it has received, rather than resentment for what it hasn’t gotten. It faces the future with hope rather than anxiety. The apostle Paul discovered that when he was living as a friend and companion of Jesus, who “though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor.” Paul himself experienced richness of being. He became a “more-than enough” person. He found that whether he was living in luxury or living in prison he had more than enough, because he had been freed from the treadmill of having.