Pastoral Issues

Cleaning House

by Chris Beneteau

"Do not lay up for yourselves earthly treasures that moths and rust corrode or thieves break in and steal." (Matt.6: 19-20)

After spending the past week moving my family into our new home, I have come to a conclusion that should be obvious; most Canadians have way too much stuff. Being surrounded by mountains of boxes has been an eye-opening experience and it has caused me to re-evaluate where I place my priorities. It has also lead to some serious reflection about how we attempt to bring order into our lives with or without God.

In the weeks preceding the move, my wife and I made a conscious effort to pare things down by getting rid of anything that we had not used over the past year, or anything that was simply taking up space. In the spirit of ‘charity’, we decided to avoid having a garage sale and instead gave most of the stuff to goodwill and various sharing centres. Unlike the widow who gave all that she had to live on to the collection box, we gave from our abundance or surplus wealth, so it was no great sacrifice. Feeling pretty proud of ourselves, however, we slowly packed up our other ‘essential’ belongings and got ready for the big move.

After the first six hours of moving, we suddenly realized that we still had too many things. This is despite the fact we wouldn’t exactly be described as a wealthy family. As I have said in the past, my income is very modest and my wife is a stay at home mother. According to stats Canada we are not far away from being a part of Canada’s working poor, yet we still have much more than we will ever need. And this got me wondering. If we have all this stuff, what do other Canadians have? What about the things that are collecting dust and rust in the closets, basements and storage spaces of the nation?

A few days before the move, I asked God to give me the grace to remain peaceful and calm. I have always been someone who has ‘sweated the small stuff’ or has made ‘mountains out of molehills.’ Since the move would be stressful it only made sense to invoke the name of the Prince of Peace.

Despite the fact that I had prayed for peace before the move, it was certainly a challenge once the move got underway. It’s funny how God can get put on the back burner when one is under stress or in the midst of some great life event. It is easy to pray and be faithful when things are going your way. Throw a little turmoil into the mix and suddenly God gets the shaft. Talk about selfish. Anyway, it became a goal of mine to try to find God amidst the mess. Unfortunately, I often found myself whining, complaining, arguing with family members and losing any sense of peace. Thankfully, there were a few moments that allowed me to assess the value that I place on my worldly goods.

Throughout the move, family members were in close contact with one another for an extended period of time. As most of the readers have surely experienced, this is not necessarily a positive thing. Competing egos or sibling rivalries are often carried over into adulthood. Throughout the move there was this tension between my brother and myself. We both had ideas about how things should be packed, unpacked and moved from home to home. My brother is a big guy (he weighs about 230 lbs) and he likes to think that he can lift twice as much as the average man. This causes him to make poor decisions such as trying to carry a whole dinning room table on his own.

I had returned from a trip to the store only to meet a very worried looking brother at the door of our new home. He had every reason to be worried. An hour earlier, I lost my cool after he dropped my antique chess set all over the driveway. Like someone trying to minimize the pain by removing a band aid in one quick ripping motion, my brother said, "Chris I’ve got some bad news. I dropped your kitchen table and a chunk came off of it." Now normally, this type of news would have thrown me into a ‘tizzy,’ but on this occasion I felt myself being overwhelmed with a sense of calm and serenity. I took one look at my brother then one look at the table and replied, "ah no big deal." As if he could not believe what he was hearing, my brother started to ramble on about how he was going to fix the table. I then turned to him once more and said, "John it doesn’t matter." At this point I think he finally realized that I was not going to throw a ‘hissy’ fit and with a relieved look on his face he returned to the task at hand.

Once we moved all of our belongings into the new house, the real work began. As I sat surrounded by boxes amidst the chaos, it reminded me that God is the one in control. My frustration, anxiety and anger are an extension of my pride. We want to be in control and our living spaces are an attempt to bring a sense of order into our universe. There can be no order however without God. A life without God is a life of disorder.

Overall, the move was a great time of reflection. It was a chance to see how much progress I have made in the faith. It also allowed me to identify some areas in my life that need work. The move served to remind me that I am a flawed human being who will always be flawed. This does not mean however that I cannot take small steps on the path of holiness.

After reflecting on a variety of theological and philosophical underpinnings of the whole moving process, I leave the readers considering a future move one very important piece of advice – hire movers!

Chris Beneteau
The Catholic Legate
December 12, 2003