Note: This is a guest post written by The Rev. Samantha Drennan, a part-time associate to the Bishop in Northeastern PA Synod (ELCA), full-time parish pastor, and cat mom.
Becca (The Christian Minimalist) asked me to write this guest post after I sent her the above picture of guest towels. I have followed along with her on this Christian Minimalism journey, and embraced some degree of minimalism myself over the years. I never thought of it in terms of my faith walk before. Clutter gives me claustrophobia, and during my time in seminary I moved twice a year for five years. Each time I would get rid of what seemed like so much stuff, and yet each time there were still so many boxes.
These guest towels are in the downstairs bathroom of my father’s house, and as is the case with much of what’s in that house, was purchased by my stepmother Nancy. Every time I visited, I chuckled at the ornately embroidered fancy towels for guests marked with this phrase, because she lived so differently from the message on these towels: “Live Simply.” I sent the picture to Becca, explained why they were so ironic– and well, here we are.
In June of this year, Nancy died of complications stemming from multiple health issues. I traveled the five hours to their home to help my father with funeral arrangements, and to begin the work of clearing out the house. This is a process that could not by any means be done in one weekend– and in fact, will probably be ongoing for months due to the sheer amount of stuff.
Nancy had a lot of issues – physical, spiritual, and emotional. Her favorite method of escape and self-soothing was shopping; constant non-stop shopping. When she felt well enough, she would visit brick-and-mortar shops, but by far her favorite was virtual shopping via the QVC channel. If you aren’t familiar, QVC is a 24-hour shopping channel on cable TV. They have a regular rotation of hosts who tout various products, special guest appearances by celebrity hawkers, and special merchandise for every holiday and season of the year.
Nancy was completely enamored of QVC. The house was filled with their products. All the clothing she wore was purchased there, and all the gifts she gave for any occasion. One time even the food we ate came from QVC – frozen hamburgers. They had the best of everything. Any conversation with her, any topic that came up, she wanted to tell you how something from QVC was the perfect solution to any problem.
As time wore on, she went out less and less. Gradually she stopped going out at all, and even stopped getting dressed. But up until her last week, Nancy would not stop ordering from QVC. She would buy gadgets and clothes to be enjoyed “when she got better.” Or she would buy items she planned to give as gifts. Often, she would forget she had purchased many of these items. My father, overwhelmed by being a round-the-clock home health aide, would simply pile these things up in the basement. Only after her funeral did he close her QVC account.
A Life Revolved Around Shopping and Consumption
When Nancy was alive, our relationship was strained. She was constantly asking me where my clothes came from, what store and what designer (don’t know, don’t care). There was a steady stream of grooming advice for me and my unruly hair. Nancy thought church was pointless, and didn’t like that my father spoke favorably and often about me being a pastor. I was glad that she kept him company. But I found it very difficult to relate to her, and could never look upon her as a second mother, the way she wanted. I was always polite, but I didn’t enjoy being around Nancy, and I feel badly about that. And now that she’s gone, I feel sadness and pity as I look at her legacy of accumulated stuff. She was a deeply unhappy woman who tried to fill the emptiness inside herself with possessions.
And truly, is it any wonder? We are constantly bombarded with the message that whatever we have, it isn’t enough. We need more. Or we need better – Nancy would often buy new appliances or cookware to replace perfectly good ones, because some talking head on QVC convinced her “THIS can opener is FAR better than your OLD can opener.” The nonstop message is always that whatever you have is garbage compared to this new thing. This new thing is bigger, or shinier, or has more wheels. And you deserve it. With the help of God, I can tune out those voices urging me to accumulate stuff. She could not.
A Relationship with Jesus Gives Us More Joy than Accumulating Stuff
I have a nice apartment and a reliable car, for which I am grateful. I like the possessions I have that serve a purpose in my life. But thanks be to God, I don’t think I would ever confuse any possession on earth with the joy that can only come from a deep abiding relationship with Jesus. I didn’t always have that relationship; it took time, but I am here now for which I am deeply grateful. I mourn the life Nancy could have had, the true joy she missed, and I pray she is in a good place now.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.