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Hoarding and Basic Choices about Life: the Blessedness of Simplicity and Following Christ

August 29, 2013

Although people have always had worries and fears, the amount of stress and anxiety experienced by individuals who are in no mortal danger is a peculiarly modern phenomenon.  Modern stress and anxiety are often related to health issues, anger, and a host of other afflictions that plague contemporary man.  As we take leave of the topic of hoarding, perhaps a reflection upon the role of possessions in our lives would be appropriate.  While necessary possessions are a blessing from God that enables us to live, possessions that feed our desires and our passions can be a curse that damages our lives and amplify the consequences of the Fall. In a sense, hoarding is the end result of one who views the acquisition of material possessions as the ultimate route to happiness and personal comfort.

In the previous posts on hoarding, I’ve discussed the important role proper decision making plays in resolving a tendency to hoard.  This last post on the subject of possessions in general will focus on a life principle that places possessions in their proper perspective. Saint Gregory Palamas in his letter to the nun Xenia distinguishes between needs and luxury (PG 150, 1061B). On the one hand, there are natural desires for food, clothing, and shelter that are a natural part of our human condition; on the other hand, there is an added insatiable desire to acquire material goods that comes not from our human nature created good, but from our passions, our fears, and our philautia.

In his counsels to people who would come to his monastic cell seeking advice and comfort, Elder Paisios would tell them that they must simplify their lives.  He wisely recognized that the constant seeking after material possessions and the fleeting glory of this world brings heartache, pain, suffering, stress, and anxiety.  A life whose goal is the acquisition of fame and fortune has no room for Christ.

In his own inimitable way, Elder Paisios would tell them, “Secular people say, ‘How lucky are the wealthy people who live in palaces and have all kinds of conveniences!’  In fact, blessed are those who have succeeded in simplifying their lives and freeing themselves from the yoke of worldly progress, of the many conveniences that have become inconveniences, and have consequently rid themselves of the dreadful anxiety that plagues so many people today. If man does not simplify his life, he will end up tormenting himself. But if he simplifies it, all his anxiety will go away. . . These days I stress simplicity to lay people too, because many of the things they do are not necessary and they end up being consumed by anxiety. I speak to them of austerity and asceticism. I constantly scold them, ‘If you want to get rid of anxiety, simplify your lives!’ That is how most divorces start. People have to do too many things, they have too many obligations and it makes their heads spin. Both parents work and abandon the children, resulting in fatigue and nervousness, which causes small issues to turn into big fights and then to automatic divorces; that’s where they end up. But if they simplified their lives, they would find rest and joy. Stress is a catastrophe waiting to happen.”

In our consumer-driven society, we are constantly told that happiness is to be found in the acquisition of things such as a new car, a new house, or a new television.  In a sense, we become defined by these possessions and spend most of our energy and our effort paying for them.  This is how we measure success and ultimately happiness.  We start believing that we have to “keep up with the Joneses” in order to be valued and considered a success.  Yet, the psalms provide plenty of warnings against precisely that type of thinking.  Christ Himself told His followers, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

The Lord Christ leaves little room for ambiguity in His Sermon on the Mount.  We can’t serve two masters.  We will either choose to follow the wide path of material desires and passionate living or we will choose the narrow and straight path which leads to Christ.

Elder Macarius once wrote, “A life that is lived with a clear conscience and in humility brings peace, calm, and true happiness, while wealth, honors, renown and high position are frequently sources of many sins, and do not bring happiness.”  The Elder knew this from experience for he managed a commercial estate prior to joining a monastery.

Like everything else in life, leading a simple life is a choice.  It is a choice that takes a great deal of discipline and courage. The choice of the Apostles to forsake their nets and follow Christ required heroism and faith. And for us, even the small decision to stop hoarding requires a certain degree of heroism and faith. Most people, perhaps even your own family, will not understand such a choice.  You may even be scorned and ridiculed for the choice.  However, there is an undeniable freedom in not basing life choices upon the esteem of others.  There is also a peace that accompanies such a simple lifestyle choice.  Such a person recognizes that the Lord is his firm foundation and he would prefer to depend upon Him rather than a material possession or the opinion of mortal man.  Such a person is blessed indeed for he has chosen to follow the Psalmist’s counsel, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” (Ps. 36:5–6).

  1. What is your view on smart phones and iPads which are changing our lives now always watchful for the next tweet or text message.

  2. Would that we were only so watchful for the next message from God in our lives! Would that we were only so eager for every communication with Him! Would that we were only so ingenious in finding new and creative ways to fulfill the will of God in all our daily encounters! We allow smart phones and iPads and every other new technological wonder to change our lives, because they enable us to fulfill basic human deeds. Many of those needs are good and God-given, but they need to be directed in a wise way. The surgeon’s scalpel can heal; the robber’s switchblade can kill. The intention of the user and the ultimate use of the instrument are what is praiseworthy or blameworthy. I think people need to sit down and honestly decide whether their use of a given device is helping them be better Christians, hindering from that aim, or neutral. If it is hindering them, would restrained use within a certain time-frame help or should they just give the object a way. I also think it might be good to ask whether the instrument is taking them away from their neighbor and from God in the present.

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