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When Thieves Stole All Our Family’s Belongings

A Theology of Stuff

Published on:
October 15, 2018
Read time:
6 min.
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All my family’s belongings vanished last fall when our moving company never delivered our boxes. 

Our neighbors must’ve thought we were part of the witness protection program. Who buys a house and moves in with no furniture? 

There were days of calling the company with no answer—no one taking responsibility, returning calls, or telling me where they stored our lives. Our handprint Christmas ornaments and my worn teddy bear missing one ear were gone. How do people who steal other’s lives sleep at night? 

Things don’t make a family, love does. Things don’t make us joyful, grace does. Things don’t make a Christian, Christ does. But then why did I still feel a sense of loss?

I wanted to punch someone. Everything we owned except a few suitcases full of a week’s worth of clothes fell into some unknown abyss.

A lawyer friend discovered that the Federal Department of Transportation planned to indict the leaders of the scam company, which switched names and states several times and fooled more than nine hundred customers. The friend said I may never see our belongings again. 

I drove in my van and screamed and cried so only God would hear me. I wanted to believe that God works his goodness in the hard places like scripture says, but losing everything we owned? This felt like too much. 

Or should I act more mature for a Christian? I breathed Matthew 6:19, “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” 

Matthew 6:19 in Real Life

 Shortly before we lost everything, my mom died. I had to clean out my childhood home. Moths had already started feasting on her bedsheets. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy.” We later discovered all our belongings disappeared. “Where thieves break in and steal.” God used these difficult days as a parable of biblical truth. Don’t find your hope in things, Seana

I also realized that owning lots of things does not determine my quality of life. Our family of five lived out of suitcases and still laughed until we yelled for mercy, ate our favorite tacos for dinner, and slept in safety at night. Gratitude began to replace grumbling. I felt honest thankfulness for things like paper plates, a summer night walk, or cuddling and reading a copy of Llama Llama Red Pajama we rented from the library. 

In these tangible moments, my theology on stuff started to form. Things don’t make a family, love does. Things don’t make us joyful, grace does. Things don’t make a Christian, Christ does. 

As the swindlers placed our resurrected belongings into our rooms, I wondered where to put all this stuff I learned to live without.

But then why did I still feel a sense of loss? 

If things really just occupy space and don’t spiritually matter, then why did I feel a soul-level grief when I stopped to think about all our stolen belongings?

Resurrection

Then something crazy happened that further formed my theology on material things. 

The day before Mother’s Day my cell phone rang. A man with a thick eastern European accent said, “We have stuff today. Ready for delivery? We there at six o’clock.”

Um. Okay.

At 8 p.m. on the night before Mother’s Day, five armed police officers stood in my driveway forcing fraudulent movers to unload beaten and squished boxes into our house. As the swindlers placed our resurrected belongings into our rooms, I wondered where to put all this stuff I learned to live without.

I opened the first box and pulled out a copy of the homemade Thanksgiving book I hand drew with watercolor illustrations and bound with page protectors and metal rings. Next, Miss Spider’s Tea Party. These few pages of a spider’s cry for friends holds sacred moments of cuddles, laughs, and goodnight kisses with my children.

The next day I started with the bigger boxes and rediscovered the framed wedding picture we hung over our bed, board games mom bought us shortly before she passed away, my box of treasured notes from friends and family, and the outfit my baby wore when I brought her home from the hospital.

Suddenly glass, wood, cloth, paper were so much more than material. They were remembrance stones—beauty. 

What does this all mean?

Does stuff mean more than just stuff?

The more I beheld items, I wept. Maybe things aren’t just things—maybe they form us—maybe physicality is spiritual.

I twirl my mom’s heart pendant around my fingers I now wear hanging close to my chest. To some, it’s just a small heart made of precious metal and stones—maybe worth a few hundred dollars. To me, it’s a mantelpiece, passed down as a symbol of her legacy. Things sometimes matter much more than simply consisting of matter—they add beauty, invoke emotion, create space, and remind us of moments with loved ones.

As I process this past year, I realized I needed to believe stuff is just stuff because I couldn’t handle burying my mom, selling my lifelong home, and losing everything we owned. I needed to convince myself that my spiritual life is what holds value. The physical world, less.

But that’s saying our thinking world, or spiritual reality, is separate from and more valuable than our physical reality. I dare to venture and call it unbiblical. 

God sent his son Jesus in the flesh. The incarnate son of God came as matter, substance, and form, to tangibly pay for the penalty of our sin. Our God is Spirit and flesh for eternity—just like us. For a little while, we will be absent from our flesh that fades away, but we will receive our eternal dwelling when Christ returns—and for the Christian, our new body will live with Christ’s body for all eternity. Physicality will last forever, so matter must matter in some way.

Physicality will last forever, so matter must matter in some way.

If physicality matters, then maybe other physical things matter as well. Maybe the materials God chose to use for the temple where his glory dwelled among men before Christ came mattered. Maybe the incense mattered. Maybe the manger, where Christ laid his head as a baby, mattered. 

And today, maybe my home matters. Maybe the wood table—where people sit around to receive nourishment for their bodies created in the image of God—matters. Maybe the color of paint I choose to put on the walls in the halls of my home matters. 

These things matter greatly. Not just for earthly pleasure, but for heavenly purpose. The thieves may have stolen our belongings for a year, yet they gifted me a deep understanding of the power—or dare I say, the sacred meaning—of matter.  

What does the Bible say?

I think the frame that holds all this together is the heart. If we read Matthew 6 as a whole, we see a repetition of Jesus addressing the heart as the topic at hand. He said to beware of practicing your righteousness so others notice. He warned against praying or fasting to be recognized by others. He told us to forgive others. All are heart issues. So, when we arrive to verse 19, we are now looking at material things as a heart issue. Don’t store up for yourselves things on earth but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also . . . you cannot serve God and wealth.” Following this passage is the “cure for anxiety,” also a heart issue. Worrying about things you need rather than seeking God, who provides what we need. 

In Luke 12:19–21, a rich man stores up for himself enough to live off of and relax for the rest of his life. He ignores the needs of others, generosity, or service—a disastrous spiritually sick heart. 

Things in and of themselves are not evil. The love of money, the love of self, the striving for wholeness through material possessions rather than finding our satisfaction in the Lord—these things display a heart not set on God. It’s a heart issue, not a thing issue.

Like Dr. Sandra Glahn points out in her blog article, “humanity’s first mandate was to steward matter, to subdue and rule the earth.” Why would God entrust us to care for the physical earth if matter doesn’t matter? Why would he create us in his image to create from that which he made, if the physical world is less meaningful than the spiritual? 

Let’s not set our hearts on storing up treasures on earth like Matthew 6 teaches—sure. But let’s not throw out cultivating our homes, offices, communities, schools, and churches with physical things. They shape us in meaningful ways. Shouldn’t these spaces be beautiful and reflect the image of God as a creative God?

Why do I feel guilty?

When we first moved into our four-bedroom house from our five hundred square foot hotel last year, I felt guilty. I used to dream of serving among a rural tribe as a missionary, and now I serve up cheese crackers and lemonade in a safe American neighborhood where kids ride bicycles from house to house. 

Why would God entrust us to care for the physical earth if matter doesn’t matter?

I felt guilty because of the unbiblical message I accepted that if I own anything more than the bare minimum needed, I must be less spiritual and a hoarder. But where did the apostles go as they went from town to town without an extra tunic or a money bag for their journey? In other’s homes. And I imagine these homes offered cultivated spaces of beauty and comfort with things appropriate for that era. 

My lesson through our stolen belongings is to hold all these things loosely. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be his name. My heart’s satisfaction draws from closeness to him, not if I finally peel off the 1987 blue and pink flower wallpaper to add shiplap—although I’m itching to pull out vinegar and warm water right now.

We can—and should—cultivate beautiful spaces that honor God and facilitate community and generosity, including organizing Legos® into like-colored bins so kids in the neighborhood feel welcome to explore and create. 

The question is: Where is our heart?

Seana Scott
Seana Scott is a freelance writer, speaker, seminary student, and blogger at SeanaScott.org. She works from home while raising three kids and serving in ministry with her pastor husband, Jason.

Cover photo by Paul Stollery.

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