Jesus and the Stewardship of Self

Cross and Starfish

It’s tough to be good stewards of our time, our relationships, and our finite resources. I’ve been reflecting on this topic a lot lately, especially in light of the wonderful Rostered Leaders Wellness Retreat our Lower Susquehanna Synod hosted with support from Portico Benefits (our insurer), Thrivent Financial, and Lutheran World Relief.

We spent a wonderful two days at the Hershey Hotel with wonderful food, great collegiality, worship, Bible study, and time for yoga, meditation, and financial stewardship workshops. We were also treated to chair massages and a prayer labyrinth. Just having time to see colleagues from all parts of our synod and to treat ourselves to a lovely setting that most of us would never consider going otherwise was a lavish gift.

Even better, our keynote presenter, Dr. Mike Brown, explained healthy living through a heart healthy diet and exercise. His presentation was fun, engaging, and humorous. My husband and I have  been comparing labels ever since and are committed to being attentive to “what goes in our mouth and what we do with our feet.”

Here’s a link to the reflection I wrote this week on the Narrative Lectionary reading for February 8, 2014, posted on the Stewardship of Life Institute website. Seems our Lord Jesus Christ knew a lot about health and wellness and provides a wonderful model for stewardship of self. Thank you, Jesus!

Warning: Gratitude may be Habit-Forming

Tom Hart, CC

You more likely act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action. –Jerome Bruner

Scientific research now shows that we are born with great capacity for altruism and thankfulness. Sure, we also have the capacity for selfishness, but watch very young children play. More often than not, you will witness giving, sharing, and compassion. Unfortunately, the myriad messages of our consumer culture conspire to rid us of this basic goodness by creating an insatiable desire for more in each one of us.

Kinder bei McDonald's CC

Immense sums of money are spent on market research, advertising, and wooing of children and teenagers, for where this demographic goes, so goes their parents’ money, time, and attention. Is it any accident that more children recognize Ronald McDonald than Jesus Christ? Christians believe that Jesus offers the ultimate “Happy Meal.” We have, however, neglected to point to this powerful truth and to make it as compelling and welcoming to come to our Lord’s meal as a fast food chain does for us to drive by for a paper sack full of cheap plastic and marginally nutritious food. But happy meals and Holy Eucharist are topics for another day; this post aims to explore the connection between actions and habits.

We are oh so carefully taught to desire what we do not have, to dispose of that which is perfectly good but no longer the newest and best, and to covet the possessions of our neighbors. Our possessions begin to possess us in a mad dash for more cash to buy more stuff and fill the holes in our hearts. We become slaves to our own will (Sound like something from corporate confession in the liturgy?) and cannot free ourselves from the rat race that enslaves us.

Here’s the thing: there is another way. This alternative path is not a new idea; in fact, God has been trying to get folks to understand this for thousands of years. Like anything, however, it has to be carefully taught. We cannot assume that children—and adults—are getting the message by osmosis or by spending one hour a couple of times a month in a worship service.

John Hoey, CC

Put simply, if I want to run a marathon, I can’t just buy the shoes and head for the starting line. It takes baby steps. I must spend months in training, conditioning my body and mind to run the race ahead. A great deal of regular practice and commitment precedes the event. The same can be said for playing an instrument, painting a picture, or building a house. The practice and preparation are foundational to success.

Cultivating gratitude and the will to live thankfully every day comes from doing it, practicing it, and reflecting on it. Thanksliving is a countercultural way of being; it exposes the lies of consumerism, materialism, and quite a few other “-isms” that prevent us from living life fully and joyfully. Thanksliving comes from a deliberate and inextricable combination of doing and being. The more one practices small and simple acts of gratitude, the more one becomes a grateful and joyful person. The more gratitude one practices, the more abundance one sees.

Take this as a warning and a challenge: Gratitude may be habit-forming. Try it. In doing so, you will change your life and this world for the better. Go on—commit to one small act of gratitude each day this week, this month, and then for the rest of this year. I am quite certain you will see a difference…and that difference will be you.

Photo Credits: Tom Hart, Kinder bei McDonalds, and John Hoey, Creative Commons. Thanks!

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Less Clutter = More Living

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” — Wendell Berry

What does clutter have to do with living thankfully? A lot actually. Clutter and excess possessions have a way of keeping us from seeing clearly and from enjoying life. If you are so tied up in the clutter and “stuff” of your life, then how can you really enjoy the moment? How can you focus on being generous with others when you continually focus on amassing more possessions? How can you live thankfully when you can’t fully appreciate, much less use and enjoy, all that you have?

To me nothing is sadder than seeing a yard or estate sale following the death of someone who has spent his or her life collecting stuff that no one wants in the end. It is sickening to see someone’s possessions thrown out as rubbish. Not only is this a huge waste of money and resources, it is also a sad commentary on our obsession with possessing.

When you possess only a few items of real value, you are better able to appreciate what you have. You will not likely live above your means, and you may even have enough resources to share with others. Less clutter can equal a better quality of life and help you to live thankfully and with a minimal ecological footprint.

How much do you really need? What is essential? What can you give away? Recycle? Share? Re-purpose?

One blogger, Erin Branscom, even proposed a “40 Bags in 40 Days” challenge to declutter. Her idea is to fill one trash bag each day with items to give away, recycle, or (as a last resort) discard. She suggests repeating this process until your home is how you feel most comfortable. She also reports hearing that if you declutter your home by 40% you will cut your household chores by 40%. Sounds like 40% is a magic number in the decluttering process (You may remember my 40/40/40 Challenge during Lent). Click here to visit Erin’s blog.

So do you want to be more thankful for what you have? Declutter. Do you want to have more time, resources, and energy? Declutter. Do you want to be able to share with others? Declutter and share your stuff, trusting that you will have enough when you give out of your abundance. Start right now. Look around you. What one thing can you share with someone else, give to charity, recycle, or (if necessary) throw away?

Photo by misteraitch used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!