During this time of year, my mind often turns to house and yard upkeep and repair. Time indeed goes quickly. It felt like only a few years ago that we were moving into our Florida home which was newly built in 1999. Over the past twenty-two years, how much updating our house needed and is still in need of! Before we found out that JoAnn was sick we were planning to move to California to be closer to our adult children, so we stepped up our efforts a notch and tore up the original rugs, sealed leaks and filled cracks in the floor, dusted, spackled, sanded, and painted, put in new flooring and kitchen counter tops. At the same time, as we had to move items around, we realized how much we have been weighed down with that which we gathered, saved, and held on to, more than was necessary and so in addition to the above improvements we began to purge, sell, and give away items.
Since we have been here in our home, our three Golden Retrievers are no longer with us, JoAnn’s mother and all of her aunts, and all of my grandparents have also died and a year and a half ago JoAnn also died. Though we did move temporarily to Los Angeles to be closer to our “kids” for the final months of JoAnn’s life, I returned our Florida home in December of 2019.
These opening thoughts are a sketch of the practical reality expressed in my life that highlights the words of Jesus from the first section of our Gospel from Matthew this morning: Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:19-21). Jesus is helping his disciples then and us today to be aware of the reality of our world. All that exists is finite and material. Each thing, each being, has a beginning and an end. We need to resist the temptation to be attached to anything, even to our family and friends, because in this life nothing lasts forever.
Adopting an attitude of non-attachment to material things can be freeing as long as we do not embrace the opposite extreme of placing no value in created things, thinking that we can destroy and abuse the environment, exploit each other, because neither will not last. We can also be tempted to see all things not spiritual as corrupt and bad, even our material reality as human beings, such that our soul is imprisoned until we die. This extreme will not bring us happiness, joy, or fulfillment either.
Living a life directed by the Gospel is to embrace a more balanced life of recognizing that much of what is material and finite is good, yet each has a time and a season. We have the opportunity and invitation to be participants in God’s eternal plan of salvation, and we can embrace and enjoy the wonders and gifts of his creation when we don’t hold onto the things of this world too tightly.
We need to resist grasping at and clutching anything material and finite. In this way, we can be freer to embrace the steady movement of the Holy Spirit, which is ever fresh and new. The Holy Spirit seeks to lead us to deepen and to grow in our relationship with our loving God and Father and one another, so to store up our true treasures which are in heaven.
When we embrace the reality that our time here on earth is limited, we might not take it for granted as much, we might realize how precious this life is, and we may give up the urge to belittle, demean, and dehumanize one another. Instead, let us show greater appreciation for each other, strive to be present and accompany one another, seek to be kinder, more supportive, and patient with one another. We need to let the petty things go and embrace the love that Jesus inspires us to live, so to be there for one another through thick and thin.
What helped JoAnn and me during her last months was accepting the gift of knowing that her time was short. We appreciated each moment together more. We had the time to get our affairs in order in this life, so JoAnn could be free to prepare for the next. Death is not easy when we have time to prepare nor when it comes unexpectedly in a flash. Trusting that death does not have the final answer but Jesus does helps. As we all continue our journey together, may we enjoy the goodness of this life while at the same time “store up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:20).
Final weeks in LA. We leaned on each other and Jesus each step of the way! Photo credit: Giovanna Christian