On March 7, we left to go on an 8-day cruise to the Caribbean for a planned family vacation. At that point, the coronavirus (COVID-19) had been spreading in other countries and there were a few cases on the West Coast of the U.S. Since there were no travel recommendations in place and the threat of the virus was not apparent on our side of the country, we decided to go on our trip.
What we came back to on March 15 was the stuff of post-apocalyptic movies. The disease had spread to the point that we were unsure if we were actually going to make it home. When we did make it home, we were terrified that we wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves… or get toilet paper. Or hand sanitizer. Or cleaning wipes. Or cold/virus remedies.
Coming Back to Empty Shelves
Why were we so scared about not being able to get food or toilet paper or cleaning supplies or medicine? Because while we were on the cruise, the minute some people heard about the pandemic and imminent self-isolation, they ran to the stores (both in-person and online) and bought as many of these things as they could.
And then other people, when they saw those people hoarding, followed suit. So a good chunk of Americans became hoarders and there was nothing left. We came back to these shelves:
Trying to buy what we needed after the locusts had descended was a total nightmare. We had almost no food in our house because we had been away for over a week, and finding food in Philadelphia was extremely difficult– let alone toilet paper or cleaning supplies/medicine. And it was incredibly frustrating knowing that these supplies existed– but they were stockpiled in other peoples’ homes. The worst part is that people are continuing to hoard as this pandemic continues.
When I talk about hoarding, I’m not talking about the actual psychological disorder of hoarding. I’m talking about herd mentality and stockpiling in the face of uncertainty.
And this hoarding is detrimental to us and our neighbors, which is why Jesus spoke against it. Here are three major reasons why Jesus warns us against hoarding and why it hurts us:
Hoarding Perpetuates Fear
One big emotion motivates those who run to hoard in the face of the pandemic– fear. People are afraid of not having enough. So they buy everything they can get their hands on in order to quell the fear and feel like they have control in the face of the uncontrollable.
This feeds a vicious cycle of fear, in which people continue to become more fearful and continue to hoard, rather than actually dealing with the fear they are feeling directly.
Having fear is a normal part of being human– especially when we are in a situation that is uncertain and we have no control over, like this pandemic. Jesus’ disciples were also afraid when they were in their boat in the middle of terrible wind, and saw Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:45-52) . But Jesus tells them:
Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.Mark 6:50
Then Jesus got into the boat and calmed the wind. And they were no longer afraid.
We don’t have to hoard things in an effort to quell our fears. In fact, hording only feeds our fears. Jesus calms the chaotic wind around us and reminds us not to be afraid. We may not be able to control the pandemic, but we can control our response to it– with Jesus’ calming help.
Hoarding Illustrates Lack of Trust in God
We also resort to hoarding when we don’t trust that God will do what God promises– to provide for us. We don’t trust God, so we attempt to take care of it all ourselves.
There is another story about one who was motivated by the same lack of trust and did the same thing– check out the man Jesus spoke of in Luke 12:13-21, often called “The Rich Fool.” In order to feel more comfortable and to assuage his uncertainty of the future, the man basically hoarded and built bigger and bigger barns to hold all of his stuff. He’s feeling pretty good about himself until…
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”Luke 12:20-21
When we hoard, our behavior becomes a stumbling block to our relationship with God. We stockpile rather than trusting in God to provide. And God does promise to provide. Jesus tells us:
And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.Luke 12:29-31
Jesus gives us this important reminder after the Parable of the Rich Fool. We don’t have to hoard things and worry about having what we need. When we seek God, God promises to provide us what we need. And we do not need piles and piles of toilet paper.
Hoarding Keeps Supplies From Others
Perhaps the most disturbing way hoarding hurts us and others is that when we hoard, these supplies are not available to others who need them. We are not the only ones who need things in this pandemic.
If everyone bought a normal amount of supplies, everyone would have what they needed. There are plenty of supplies to go around. But rather than just buy a normal amount, a good number of people hoarded, and now lots of people who need things have no way of getting them when they need them.
Jesus knows what it’s like to have a hungry crowd on his hands. Jesus was able feed 5,000 men, plus women and children, when a huge crowd came to hear him speak and be healed of their diseases (Matthew 14:13-21). They were there all day, and needed food. Jesus took just a little bit of food and was miraculously able to feed everyone:
And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.Matthew 14:20
Jesus was able to provide enough for everyone to be full– and even had some left over! Jesus not only provides for us; he also invites us as his followers to do as he did– to help make sure that everyone has enough. When we do this for one another, we are serving Jesus (Matthew 25:34-40).
The minute we put our own wants and gains before the well-being and lives of our neighbors, Satan has won. We are called as Jesus’ disciples to share with each other, and make sure everyone has enough.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.Philippians 2:4
Christian Minimalism in a Pandemic
Even in the middle of this global pandemic, Christian minimalists aim to live the life Jesus wants for us by focusing on the aspects of life that matter most and intentionally removing everything else.
Hoarding is the antithesis of the Christian minimalism lifestyle. Hoarding hurts all of God’s children, including ourselves, and Jesus warned us against it.
Instead, we are called to be Jesus to others and see Jesus in others. We are called to live simply and buy only what we need so that others may have what they need. We are called to break the cycle of fear and trust that God provides.
And we are called to be a light in the darkness. These are dark times. We have the light of Jesus in us. Let us be that light for others.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16
Margaret ThatcherMarch 30, 2020 - 8:08 am
Again an excellant article. I gave many presentations to folks in the mental health system regarding sign and symptoms of hoarding. Hoarding is often denied and overlooked by many but our families….church goers…..and neighbors, both professional and everyday workers are diagnosed as HOARDERS
Again excellant article
Sure hope your father in law has improved.
DorrieMarch 30, 2020 - 9:16 am
Thank you for your words of wisdom!
Taylor FrancisMarch 30, 2020 - 10:33 am
Hoarding and stockpiling in the face of immediate shortages, thereby preventing others from getting needed supplies is wrong. But preparing weeks, months or even years beforehand, in order to have provisions on hand during a shortage is not only NOT wrong, it is prudent for the care of one’s family and friends. Certainly Christians should always be generous and preparing to be generous in the face of adversity is commendable. If I bought 10 case of TP six months ago when there was no shortage, I can now supply my needy neighbors in a time when herd-mentality-panic has cut off the supply. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG OR BAD ABOUT THAT!
BetsyMay 7, 2023 - 1:43 pm
But would you give away your toilet paper, let alone your food, to someone that didn’t plan ahead? I doubt it.
Roland KundeMarch 30, 2020 - 9:39 pm
This is a wonderful article! I would like to see it reprinted in our church newsletter. Thanks again!
Jodi CollinsMay 18, 2022 - 10:23 am
Was wondering about this….especially in the time that we are in now with inflation on the rise daily. Wouldnt it be prudent to purchase what you know your family will consume maybe in bulk at today’s prices rather than get just what you absolutely need and have to pay 10x the price in two weeks. This is a struggle for me as a mother and budgeter. I struggle with the line between trust, prudence and wisdom. Could some shed some light on this for me?
Becca EhrlichJune 13, 2022 - 4:43 pm
Hi Jodi– what an amazing question. Buying a product in bulk that your family regularly uses, and you know your family will use over time, is different than panic stockpiling and making products inaccessible for others. You know best the needs of your family and what amount they will use, and what makes sense to buy financially at that time. 🙂