Several weeks ago I perched on a stool in our driveway, watching people come and go from our garage sale. Some glided through in a steady loop, their eyes running quickly over our wares as they looked for that one particular item. Some tried to haggle, at times offering ridiculously low amounts in the hope of getting a bargain. Others lingered, asking us our story, telling us theirs. A few asked for cuttings from some of our shrubs and passed on gardening tips in exchange.
Many visitors left with arms laden with ‘treasures’– items that were useful to them and rich in history for us. There were plants I’d lovingly nurtured, hefty bookshelves that had called us to delve into yet another of the stories they displayed, worn camping gear, garden tools, children’s clothing and baby toys.
So many possessions walked down our driveway that day – yet I felt no sorrow. Those things had been useful to us but parting with them wasn’t painful. They were only ‘things’, after all. It was the experiences, the people we connected with them that gave them value.
Five years ago, as I lay in a hospital bed, seriously ill, I had a revelation that has changed the way I view life. I have a feeling those chatty people at our garage sale have discovered the same truth.
Material possessions serve a purpose in our lives. But, as far as life on this earth goes, people are all that matters.
I’ll say that once more.
People are all that matters.
Despite our need and often our yearning for ‘stuff’, it will all ultimately wear out. It serves a purpose and perhaps brings us pleasure for a time, but its value is limited to what it helps us accomplish. People, only people, are the ones with whom we connect at the deepest level, often in a way that impacts eternity.
In the final weeks we spent in Tasmania, it was time with people I was savouring. People who’d walked with us through our marriage, the birth of each of our children, times of anxiety, fear and doubt, times of sickness, times of celebration. People who’d prayed with us, spoken words of hope in seasons of despair and stepped in with offers of practical help. I took every opportunity to talk, eat, laugh and yes, cry, with these who were dear to my heart.
Tasmania is an amazing place to call home – an island full of history, natural beauty, delicious food and countless opportunities for adventure. We’d lived an idyllic life nestled amidst rolling hills. Yet it wasn’t the loss of all those things that had tears welling as our plane departed two weeks ago. It was the people I was leaving behind.
Now we’re creating a home in our new location, we’re gathering new stuff. Over the past ten days we’ve bought or been given more material things than we would have collected in the previous few years. Couches, electrical goods, plants, pots, a pool, barbecue and outdoor setting have all made their way through our front door – with more still to come. We’ve been so thankful for every piece and its part in making our home run well.
But it’s more than function that’s in my heart as I help shift each item into place. I’m dreaming about relationships. What conversations will our family have around the table? Who will we welcome onto our back deck for barbecues? What stories, what journeys will be shared in this home in the days to come?
There’s a phrase that has often run through my head since that revelation five years ago. Quietly it guides my treatment of others, chiding me when I start to fear or judge, challenging me to step outside my comfort zone. These two simple words have been inscribed on my heart by my Father’s loving hand and now echo through my days.
It’s a phrase for me, yes – an assurance that God sees me and will take care of my needs. But more so it’s a phrase about the people around me, all people, no matter who they are or how different their values are to mine. Each one has been created by God and He loves them with an intensity that led Him to give His very best – Jesus – for them. Because they matter to Him, they should matter to me. Don’t all of us need that assurance – that we matter – in a culture that is so often focused on the needs and desires of the individual?
It’s January 1st today. Maybe, as we reflect and prepare for a new year, it’s time to broaden our focus from our own dreams and ambitions. Maybe we need to ask ourselves this question: If people really are all that matter, how will that be reflected in the goals and priorities I set for this year? And what am I hoping to see when I look back in twelve months’ time?
It’s worth some thought.
“The wisdom of the wise is to give thought to their ways…” Proverbs 14:8.