As you read this column, I pray that it’s not too late to interrupt the season-long process of stuffing yourself.
No, I’m not talking about holiday cookies and office party potlucks. I’m talking about the post-Thanksgiving sales. These are the sales that start before God wakes up and continue past your New Year’s hangover.
Frankly, I’ve had enough of these stuffing sales. In fact, pardon the attitude, but I’m stuffed with way too much stuff. I’ve had enough of the super-sized, grande, vinti, jumbo, all-you-can-eat super-warehouse StuffMart materialism.
So, this year I have a few ideas designed to keep you from overstuffing yourself.
The first idea was inspired by a challenge Jesus issued to a visitor who asked what he must do to become whole.
“Go and sell all your stuff,” Jesus said, “and give the profit to the poor and your treasure will be in heaven.”
The Scripture says the man left sorrowful, because he could not bear to lose his stuff, even if it meant saving his soul.
“What does it profit a man,” Jesus would later ask, “if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
So, last year, I took a hard look at my stuff, especially the stuff I loved.
Among this stuff was my bedside television, my iPod and its docking clock, even an expensive night-vision monocular I use to view wildlife.
I took all those things and wrapped them as gifts. They were gifts I couldn’t normally afford to give. My hunter brother-in-law, who usually gets a Starbuck’s gift card from me, was astonished to receive my monocular. My son couldn’t believe his dad relinquished his precious iPod, and my daughter was astounded that I was giving her a television set for her room.
Not only did these things make good gifts, but they were a token representation of the stuff that weighed down my soul with materialism. They weren’t so hard to give as they were hard to give up. This was the stuff Jesus was talking about, stuff I wouldn’t replace.
The second idea came to me the year I returned from the Hurricane Katrina cleanup. The sight of mountains of stuff that had been robbed, ruined and ransacked reminded me of words from the world’s most famous homeless man, Jesus. “Don’t store up for yourself treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Inspired by these words and the Katrina catastrophe, I begged family and friends to “make a donation on my behalf to the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, AidChild or the Heifer Project. Buy some warm blankets for the homeless. Send a donation overseas to the latest earthquake, flood or fire victim.”
That was the year my sister-in-law gave me a certificate that honored the donation she gave to the Red Cross in my name. My mother-in-law gave me a hand-written certificate indicating she’d given money to Katrina victims in my name.
And you know what I did when I opened these gifts?
My wife and kids followed with similar donations. And I cried again. It was the truly the most amazing gift anyone has ever bought for me.
This year as you consider your strategy for interrupting the stuffing, I hope this is the year you discover that real treasure isn’t what you buy; it’s not even what you give. It’s what you give up.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You can also follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.