If I were to tell you I measure success in my life by the quality and amount of stuff I own, I’m guessing one of two things would happen. Either you would stop reading and write me off as sad and shallow. Or, you would keep reading, but feel a great deal of sympathy for me (or maybe anger toward me) for being so sad and shallow.
You might even take the time to write an angry or corrective comment below, so I could see the error of my ways.
But here’s what’s funny: I actually do believe this. (Keep reading).
Sometimes we believe things we don’t realize we believe. You know what I mean? Sometimes we’re just going along, enjoying our life, making decisions that feel best in the moment, without realizing the choices we’re making are adding up to something significant, maybe even something we don’t even like. And before we know it, we are living like we believe something we don’t actually believe.
This is what happened to me when it came to my possessions. A few years ago I looked around my life and realized:
I believe my stuff defines me.
It wasn’t like I sat around my house, thinking to myself: You know, if I could just get nicer stuff — a cooler car, a better house, a prettier couch — then I would think my life really mattered for something. It didn’t have conversations with friends where I shared, “I’m just really hoping someday I’ll have a more stylish wardrobe, so I’ll feel accepted and important.”
But still, these silent and pervasive thoughts were driving the way I lived my life. They dictated the clothes I bought, the car I drove, the people I spent time with, if I bought or rented, the career path I chose, and the anxiety I felt if I couldn’t get the things I wanted. Can you believe that? I was allowing my entire life to be infiltrated and dictated by a belief system I didn’t even want.
The worst part of all was I was miserable. Totally and completely miserable.
So I sold everything.
I’ve told the story here before, and wrote a book about the experience called Packing Light that is available on Amazon starting today, so I won’t bore you with all of the gory details. But basically, I wanted to see what would happen if I gave up everything I was using as a measure of success in my life that was leading me in the wrong direction. I wanted to see if God would show me how he wanted me to measure success.
I wanted to see if I could experience the Kingdom of Heaven.
You know the story of the Rich Young Ruler from the Gospels? If you grew up in church, like I did, you’ve heard it at least a dozen times before (if you haven’t, you can find it in Luke 18:18). Even with as many times as I had heard this story, I never really made much of it. Honestly, I thought it was a story for rich people — and I never really thought of myself as rich. But a few years ago, when I read this story, it felt like I was reading it for the first time.
Suddenly I identified with the young man completely.
I felt like I had been coming to Jesus saying, “Okay, I’ve done all the stuff I was supposed to do. I went to college. I’ve been responsible. I paid my bills. Now where is the life you promised? Where is Heaven?”
And it felt like God was saying, “Let it all go.”
I know I’m not the only one who is living my life with the deeply held belief that success in life is defined by stuff. I meet too many people with too many stories similar to mine. I look around at the debt we’re in, the anxiety we feel, the desperation and the restlessness and the sense that, while none of this matters, we’re all making a very big deal out of it, and we can’t seem to stop.
We would never turn to a friend and say, “Mostly, I’m just trying to own a lot of nice stuff in my lifetime. That would make me feel like I had really made it.” But we’re living our life as if we believe that’s how it works, aren’t we?
What if we were willing to wake up to the deeply rooted beliefs that are driving our lives? What if we had the courage to change them?
Would we experience heaven, right now?
I believe we would. I don’t think it would happen right away. In fact, I think at first, it would feel a little unnatural and uncomfortable. We might feel exposed and vulnerable. This happens anytime we give up the baggage we’ve been carrying. In a sense, there is a freedom and a weightlessness to it. And in another sense, there is a nakedness. The act of letting go also exposes how much we relied on what we were carrying.
But I think as we re-built our new belief structure from the ground up — as we put our hands and hearts to it — we would feel life rush in.
What do think? Does your stuff define you?