Life is full of significant moments. I don’t have to tell you that. And while no two lives are exactly the same, there are certain milestones that are shared by many of us – certain points on our journey that signify a new “stage”, a new chapter in our lives. Most of them are pretty easy to name. Our first day of kindergarten. Our first crush. Getting our driver’s license. Our first job. Graduating from high school or college. Our wedding. Our priestly ordination. The birth of your children. The death of someone close to us. I hope you get the picture.
But there is one in particular that kind of sneaks up on us, one that we hardly ever think of until we are faced with it. And when we reach this particular point in life, it can be a little challenging, a little frustrating, and for some of us, a little scary. I’m talking about the time in life when we are forced to . . . downsize.
If you’ve already gone through it, you know that it can be a real pain, but pretty satisfying once it’s over. If you are in the middle of it as we speak, hang in there. Things will get better. And for those of you who haven’t reached that point yet, all I can say is, good luck! You probably think it won’t be a big deal. And you might be right, but the odds are that it will be harder than you think.
Downsizing. Kind of an odd word. Of course, it implies that all the time before that point is “upsizing” buying, accumulating, etc and if you think about it, it’s true for most of us. Many of us start with a tiny apartment. And then maybe a condo. That’s usually followed by a townhouse or an inexpensive starter home. Of course, if you have the means, you hardly ever stop there, each new house being a little bigger than the one before.
The point is, with those various moves comes the accumulation of “stuff”. Furniture. Clothes. Vehicles. Books. TVs and such. Tools and bikes and snow blowers and exercise equipment and patio furniture and kitchen gadgets and you fill in the blank. And the truth to be told is that most of us accumulate all this stuff without really being aware of it. It just kind of “happens”. One moment we’re living in a single bedroom in our parents’ house and the next moment we have more than we know what to do with it.
The truth is that, it’s not really an issue until the day comes when we’re moving into a smaller place, and then it becomes a BIG issue. Most of us would probably claim that only people really matter and the stuff we accumulate doesn’t really matter at all. And we’d be right. Yet, when that time comes, getting rid of stuff – letting go of things that brought us joy or memories or whatever – can be really hard. And choosing exactly what to keep and what to get rid of can be a really difficult decision. This happened to me when I was moving from Virginia Beach to take possession of this Rectory, or the Parish. In fact time was not on my side, so I just rented a van and moved everything here. Now I’m burdened with doing a proper separation and doing away with what I don’t need anymore. In fact, some people avoid the issue completely by simply paying to have the extra stuff put into storage — where it sits until the next generation has to do what the previous generation was unwilling to get rid of it.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
In fact, we don’t simply accumulate material things as we journey through life. We accumulate so much more. Resentments. Prejudices. Fears. Egos. A sense of entitlement or on the other end of the spectrum, an unhealthy lack of self-worth. Selfishness. Apathy toward the needs of others. Feelings of despair or helplessness. Cynicism. Sometimes, even hatred. These things pile up over a lifetime.
All the stuff we don’t need. In fact, it’s more than that, because the list I just gave is in many ways more dangerous than the accumulation of material things – for these are the feelings, attitudes, and ways of looking at the world that truly weigh us down – truly keep us from being the person God created us to be, keep us from being truly human, keep us from being what Michael Kelly, of Dynamic Catholic, calls “the best version of ourselves.”
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…
There is probably nothing more difficult to believe than the implications that flow from what we just heard from the mouth of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage from St. John. In a certain sense, these implications can be even more difficult than believing in the Incarnation or the Resurrection, the “supernatural” events that are mind-boggling, but which, at least on the surface, seem to demand little from us. Not only are the verses we just heard the opposite of how we usually think things work, but they also demand much from us, in fact they demand everything, our whole selves. It demands that we lay down our lives for one another.
This “losing” one’s life to find it; this “laying down” of one’s life to save it; this “dying” in order to rise to a new life that bears much fruit, is the great and puzzling paradox of Christianity. A profound and deep and mysterious truth for sure, but also one that at times is a tremendous stumbling block to so many, including you and me.
My dear people of God, the journey in which we find ourselves is not a quest to see what we can “get” out of life. It’s really all about what we can “give” to this life, what we can “put into it”, what emptiness can be filled when we pour our lives into the void.
And so, let’s use this Lent to downsize whatever needs to go, start letting God take away whatever is just taking up space, thereby allowing God to fill us with that which only he can give. And maybe we’ll find ourselves truly living for the very first time.