Sunday, my husband Scott and I were called upon to help out with the sorting of his Great-Aunt Sarah’s things. We laid out her worn jewelry, her little ceramic birds and angels, her collectibles from the states she’d traveled to, the afghans she made, her salt and pepper shaker collection, and her blue cornflower CorningWare. Over the years, her possessions were trimmed down; when she moved from her house in Carnegie to the independent living apartments in Norman, and again when she moved to assisted living. By the time she passed, she had only the things she loved the most. Every chipped ceramic bird, every tattered string of beads had a story. After spending so much time lately clearing clutter out of our house, I was loathe to drag anything back in, but I told Scott he could have any keepsakes he wanted. In the end, we didn’t take much. A salt and pepper set in the shape of a toaster with two slices of bread, a few pieces of jewelry, a book, and some other things that reminded Scott of the happy days when the family would load up the car and go see Great-Aunt Sarah.
At some point when we were sitting with Aunt Sarah on her final day, someone started asking about her will. Naturally, this caused a little tension, as it would in any situation. There was an additional bit of frustration because her will was of absolutely no consequence. Aunt Sarah had nothing. She was a widow and a retired beautician, not exactly a position of prosperity. What’s more is that she didn’t care about such things. Every Christmas and every birthday, Scott and I were very deliberate in our gift buying because we didn’t want to burden her with useless things. She would always insist that we not get her anything, but we would press her until she told us something she needed. A new lamp to crochet by, a bottle of perfume, some money to have her hair permed. We were always searching for some thing to give her, but when the time came, all she really wanted was to see the family, to hug and kiss the children, and to know everyone was healthy and happy and loved.
At the service, no one talked about how hard she worked to increase her personal wealth or what a big, beautiful house she lived in (she did have a wonderful home!). Everyone spoke of her faith, how much she loved and longed for God, how much she loved her family and friends, and how she found joy in caring for others. Aunt Sarah left a mark on everyone she met and it wasn’t because of her fine jewelry (she had none), her priceless artwork (none), her luxurious car (again, none), or any other treasures of this world. She was an inspiration because she filled herself with God’s love and passed that love on to others.
The message hit home for me. Hard. We’ve been longing to buy a house of our own, and as I look at houses online, my tastes have slowly become pricier. At some point, I added $50,000 onto our price range and I’ve started disqualifying homes that would be wonderfully suitable for us based on their lack of luster. Yes, yes, this house is very homey and would work very well for us, but I want something that looks a little nicer. So, the focus has somehow shifted to pleasing whomever is looking at the house, rather than the people living in the house. I’ve felt the same shift in other areas. When I’m looking at purses, I focus on finding one that looks nicer and pricier, rather than one that meets my needs and has the appropriate pockets. When I look at my little sensible car, I wish I’d gotten a little SUV instead. Even the gold-plated crucifix I wear on my neck should be replaced with one of solid gold. This is clearly not the way of life God intended for us.
And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. –Luke 8:14
Aunt Sarah’s funeral really struck a nerve in me because she was a childless Aunt, and so am I. When I die, what will my nieces and nephews say and feel about me? Will they say, “Aunt Rebecca showed us God’s love” or muse over my obsession with putting on appearances? Aunt Sarah’s life was full of good fruit. There were so many people there who saw Jesus in her and there wasn’t a soul present who would crave any other sentiment at their passing. So why do we all spend so much time and energy chasing after the material things that don’t matter?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God. And he said to his disciples: Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat; nor for your body, what you shall put on. The life is more than the meat, and the body is more than the raiment. Consider the ravens, for they sow not, neither do they reap, neither have they storehouse nor barn, and God feedeth them. How much are you more valuable than they? And which of you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? –Luke 12:21-25
For some time now, God has been telling me to embrace a life of greater poverty. Reduce my standard of living and increase my spiritual walk. Over the ages, we have been given so many examples. Jesus Himself was poor and had no earthly possessions beyond the clothes He wore. We can also look to the example of St. Francis, St. Clare, Mother Theresa, and others who chased after God instead of chasing riches. And now, we can also look to the simple life of love Aunt Sarah lived.