Over the past few months, my family has relocated from the mountains of North Carolina where we have lived for the past eight years to a relatively small town in central Georgia. We are just now getting close to the point of feeling like we are getting settled. It isn’t quite home just yet, but at least we are not living out of suitcases and boxes. As we have cleaned out and purged our life of accumulated things, I frequently came back to this poem by Mary Oliver and truth contained there.
Storage (by Mary Oliver)
When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for. What does one do? I rented a storage
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important. So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing — the reason they can fly.
On Sunday, our church looked at the passage in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples, “If you want to be great, you must be willing to be least . . . to be a servant of all.” I can’t help but wonder if the desire for success and greatness in the world’s eyes is not unlike the physical clutter that we accumulate over time. By our very presence in the world, we can unconsciously adopt its assumptions and worldview. We may actually begin to believe that the goal of life is power, prestige, and wealth . . . that the goal is to situate yourself in such a way that you can sit back and enjoy “the good life.”
I wonder if Jesus’ teaching is to the disciples like Oliver’s reminder was to me: to become “great” in the kingdom, to truly experience “the good life” as Jesus conceives of it, one must divest the heart of ambition and selfishness. Just as the birds can fly because they own nothing, maybe we too could “fly” in this spiritual kingdom if we were not so weighed down by faulty expectations, unbridled ambition, or experience jaded by sin and a fallen nature. Maybe this is what receiving the Kingdom like a child really is about.
I am haunted by “things” and the ambition that often tethers this heart to the ground.