Family members met yesterday to sort and distribute the last of my husband’s mother’s things. This is the third time I’ve shared this responsibility. It doesn’t get easier.
It’s a strange task, this going through other people’s spaces, looking at photos of people you never knew, discovering souvenirs from vacations you never took, and reading notes you were never meant to read. We had boxes and boxes of items to take to charities organizations. So many things a person saves hold little meaning for children and grandchildren who value tidiness, personal taste, and room to move in their own homes over sentimentality. “This was Mom’s favourite spatula” is not a good enough reason to add the collection already jamming a kitchen drawer.
Our parents saw harder times than we have known. My mother-in-law knew what it was like to lose everything to invaders in Rangoon during WWII. My parents knew what it was like to go hungry during the catastrophic climate-change known as The Dirty Thirties on the prairies. I understand why the shortages they experienced led to the habit of saving everything, but they set aside so many things for us that we don’t need. Their hard work actually did build a better life for us.
The problem of not knowing what to do with all the stuff left when an older family member passes away is relatively new in this land. Most of us are the descendants of immigrants and refugees who arrived with little. We don’t recognize the problem as a sign of how wealthy we’ve actually become. Our most treasured inheritance is their trust in God, faithfulness to family, and demonstrations of valiant endurance, not china tea cups or balls of string.
As we cope with boxes and bins of former treasures, I think about all the things we ourselves worked hard to accumulate. I wonder if my children and grandchildren will also send most of our stuff to the thrift shop or recycling center for who knows whom. (I’m working on down-sizing, kids, really I am.)
My mother-in-law lived into her nineties, but I know she still felt her time was too short. I was thinking about how quickly life passes, and how many of the things she once treasured are sitting in boxes by the back door, when I came across Psalm 39 in my scheduled reading today.
What a brief time you’ve given me to live!
Compared to you my lifetime is nothing at all!
Nothing more than a puff of air, I’m gone so swiftly.
So too are the grandest of men;
they are nothing but a fleeting shadow!”
Pause in his presence
We live our lives like those living in shadows.
All our activities and energies are spent for things that pass away.
We gather, we hoard, we cling to our things,
only to leave them all behind for who knows who.
And now, God, I’m left with one conclusion:
my only hope is to hope in you alone!
Psalm 39:5-7 TPT
I don’t want my remaining time to be spent accumulating things that pass away. The treasure I most wish to leave to my progeny is the story of God’s faithfulness, his empowering grace and hope – joyful expectation – that Christ alone is all the provision they need.