Most Christmas seasons feature a few must-have toys or accessories of the year, reliably featured on network morning news shows and paid social media promotions. But this year’s big holiday shopping story has been anxiety about supply chains and prices and whether we’ll get all the things we want in time to unwrap them on December 25.
As Christians, we know we shouldn’t let our desires hold us so tightly. I regularly drop things my family has outgrown into the drive-up collection bins at Goodwill, pulling away each time with the words I shall not want echoing in my head. And yet as soon as the donation center sign is in my rearview mirror, I resume this habit of buying stuff I don’t really need.
My head gets clear again in the moments when I focus more on the first part of that line from Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” This clear-headedness is like the first day home after a camping trip or after a visit to a far-away place.
I have all I need. And it’s with me wherever I go.
I think of what Wendell Berry describes as the “joy of sales resistance” every time I close an online shopping tab, deciding I will do without the things I’ve placed in my cart. When the season of sales and stress presses upon us, resistance takes effort. But the substance of our true hope endures and helps us through.
Hope, though, takes practice. I keep on forgetting to let go of all manner of things. I am sentimental about old baby shoes, jeans I keep pretending I will wear someday, and time-saving kitchen gadgets that actually just take up space and time. How can we free ourselves from the things that possess us and instead strengthen our ability to hope?
We can practice contentedness and thankfulness, of course. If everything we have belongs to God, then it calls for an honest inventory of what we’ve already been given. And if we already belong to God, then we don’t have to acquire things to find our significance or security.
Learning to let go of things is hard enough. It’s even harder to learn that “I shall not want” often also means letting go of people we love.
Our family is spread out from Oregon to California, from Colorado to Missouri to Florida. I wish we lived closer. And when my older kids are away at summer camp and their rooms are quiet, their absence brings to my attention the artifacts of who they are: their favorite ice cream, a certain song on the radio, the baseball hat squished under the couch, the muddy shoes beside the back door.
I pray for my children and relatives when I miss them. But I also celebrate the ways these people I love are out living the lives God has given them to live, right where they’re called. When I open up my heart to his big plans, I gain a fuller picture of the ways God is at work in this world. Letting go is part of what makes this possible.
In marriage, friendship, and family life, love is built on a springboard trajectory. To love is to receive, to let go, to launch and to send out. The whole of the gift that children receive from their parents, though imperfect, is rooted in the primal courage to love and to let go, in a trust that, whatever space is rent open, God will fill it with his presence.
When Jesus was lifted up into the clouds after his time on earth, his friends were confused by his departure. But in his ascension, Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me” (John 20:17). Jesus had to leave, making room to send an even closer companion. He sent the Holy Spirit to be not just beside us but within us. The new gift was one that we could not have known to ask for.
Change is a constant. Toddlers don’t stay small. Favorite sweaters wear out. Even the skies will wear out. Which is why we keep working to not place our hope in anything that will return to dust or to Goodwill donation bins. We can let go of them, because each time we do, we make space for the God who remains the same to offer us more of himself.
And the more of him we receive, the greater our capacity becomes to love without sticky, grasping attachments to one another or to the stuff we keep.
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