“Your stuff won’t love back” is something I commonly told to my son, Jonathan, when he was young. I wanted him to develop a proper perspective on things.
In hindsight, I should have flipped the focus. Obviously, I didn’t want him to show love to others to gain their love in return. I wanted him to put people first, before all of his possessions. But receiving love from others is the natural outcome of giving unconditional, grace-filled love — that’s just not the reason we show love. We love because Christ first loved us.
The Fall of 2005 put my words to the test — did I really believe the phrase I was telling my son. For months following Hurricane Katrina (the storm hit on Aug. 29,2005), my stuff sat moldering in my apartment in New Orleans while I was exiled in Atlanta. I thought about my things a bit, but I really didn’t miss my stuff all that much. I missed my friends from New Orleans and worried about the people in my neighborhood.
Jonathan was only four when Katrina hit. Sure he missed his toys, but he really missed his friends. I stumbled across this recording of Jonathan talking about Katrina shortly after the storm. In the recording, the boy can’t help but talk about the tree that fell victim to Katrina, but eventual he gets to what was most important. Take a listen.
As I listen to this recording, I am almost driven to tears. First, I am convicted by the purity of heart that I hear from Jonathan. My emotions were still very raw and were for several years after the storm. He was excited about that one-bedroom apartment we all shared thanks to the generosity of Georgia Baptists. It wasn’t as thankful as I should have been. I hear the sadness in his voice when he spoke of his friends, Logan and Jabin. I hear gratefulness when he talks about the way we were welcomed into Atlanta. People are more important than stuff — Jonathan knew it at age four.
One day my stuff and your stuff will end up in the trash. When we returned to New Orleans, I saw a massive trash heap on West End Blvd. Katrina cleanup crews used the neutral ground (median) as a staging area for the debris removal. The pile of broken and ruined things reached at least two stories high and stretched for several city blocks. New Orleans had a lot of stuff and a lot of it was ruined.
This human tendency to collect things (and love things) is nothing new. Every summer I dig to find the busted stuff of ancient cultures – I have seen and held thing from as far back as 4000 BC. People made pretty, shiny things back then, however, I bet their materialism was tempered by the daily struggle to find food and water.
Things aren’t bad, but we are here for a different purpose. We are here to love because Christ has first loved us and introduce people to their Creator.
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