My husband, Jim, loved cars—Mustangs in particular. For years, a small matchbox sufficed for the real thing. When a financial windfall came our way, he bought his dream: a deep red Mustang with a black convertible top.
The day we picked her up, Jim looked like a 5-year-old waiting to blow out the candles on his birthday cake. He dropped the canopy while I searched for a Beatles station. “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah . . .” transformed that vehicle into a time-machine joyride. Jim drove his beloved treasure only on weekends, since he wanted her to last.
A year later Jim took his Mustang to University Hospital, where he died from complications after surgery. I carried his clothes and personal items back to his car, sat in the driver’s seat, and wept. We often say someone who has died is with the Lord. I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. Jim and I put many happy miles on this car, but now, without him, it wasn’t the same.
Occupied with Joy
What does it mean for God to keep us occupied with joy? Could it have something to do with our focus being on him and not our circumstances and treasures? The days of my life and the things in it, God says, I won’t remember. But what about a Mustang?
I squeezed the steering wheel of Jim’s dream machine. The day we left the car dealer laughing together seemed like yesterday. I remember. But Jim? For as much as he loved his car, Jim wasn’t giving this sweet ride a moment’s thought. Nor the mahogany antique game table he loved. Ditto the framed set of Star Trek pictures or any other precious-to-him-thing I might name.
The best of what this world has to offer isn’t made for our transition to eternity.
There’s Someone he loved more, and Jim now stands in his presence. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” Jim Elliott said. My husband’s car must now seem smaller than the matchbox replica he kept on his desk. The best of what this world has to offer isn’t made for our transition to eternity.
As Don Carson asks, “Is not some of the pain and sorrow in this life used in God’s providential hand to make us homesick for heaven, to detach us from this world, to prepare us for heaven, to draw our attention to himself, and away from the world of merely physical things?”
Things Now Burdens
Jesus warned that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). I knew that intellectually, but I now know it experientially. As I looked to downsize and relocate, my possessions had become burdens. So, I planned an estate sale. Some friends and family thought I’d lost my mind:
“You aren’t selling your good China, are you?”
“How can you sell so many wonderful memories?”
“Please try and keep that desk in the family. I couldn’t bear the thought of it going to strangers.”
One friend, armed with a layman’s knowledge of suicide and depression, asked, “Sometimes hurting people give away their treasures before ending their lives. I am concerned for you. Do you have a plan?”
“Yes.” I reached for a notebook. “I’ve received several recommendations for estate planners along with their estimates. A small U-Haul will transport the few things I planned to take with me to my new home—on earth, of course.”
Relieved, she rolled her eyes, shook her head, and walked out the door.
When the purging material things craze hit the secular community, Marie Kondo entered the scene. Before an item is given or thrown away, she encourages her clients to thank the lifeless item for its service. As I looked at a pile of almost-never-worn clothing on my bed, I opted to ask the living God for forgiveness.
Two weeks later, everything I owned had a price tag on it—from leftover Fourth of July paper plates to the half-used bottle of shampoo in the guest bathroom. Even my garbage was priced to sell. “You’d be surprised,” one estate planner told me, “what people will buy.”
Amid the trash were things I did treasure—a beautiful set of bookshelves my husband bought me for an anniversary gift. The tag read $100 for the set. John Piper puts it strikingly:
The pleasures of this life and the desires for other things—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.
Worship the Giver
It can be tricky to enjoy your material blessings, without making them idols. Friends helped me store the bookshelves and later brought them to me. I can’t look at them now and not think of their kindness and God’s provision. Oh, that I would see everything I own as gifts from God and a reason to give him praise. When we worship the gift, not the Giver, it’s akin to buying someone’s garbage. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
When we worship the gift, not the Giver, it’s akin to buying someone’s garbage.
My granddaughter often clutches a toy so tightly, it’s hard to coax her to let it go, even for something far greater. What is the heavenly Father asking me to let go of that I might embrace more of him, my true treasure?
It was sobering to witness Jim leave behind every material thing we owned. One day, I will do the same. What will my true treasure be then? I pray I might heed Elliot’s exhortation: “When the time comes to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.”