By Sarah Logan, Contributing Writer
When any two or more individuals must live in close quarters, inevitably the Stuff Wars will ensue. In the context of marriage this can go one of two ways: either towards one-ness and graciousness, or towards frustration and my-way-or-the-highway dominated thinking.
We DO have a choice.
Ultimately, as with many things, the choice is between worshiping God or worshiping STUFF. Or, to boil it down even further – choosing to put ME first, or choosing to put GOD first. Which will it be? “Wait a minute – what does this have to do with God, worship and idols? I thought this was about marriage!!” (I hear you ask…)
Well, I’m so glad you asked.
Let’s look at Cain. He brought some of his STUFF to give to God. It wasn’t his best stuff – just some of it. He thought he could bless God with a portion of some of his stuff – what he determined HE wanted to bring. Something was wrong in his heart and God knew it. Problems arose because he was putting his own desires first and chose to give God less than the best.
What does this have to do with Stuff Wars in marriage? Well, often in marriage we choose to put stuff ahead of our spouse, and ultimately, ahead of God. Because if we had concern for both God and our spouse, the stuff wouldn’t have such a strong hold on us – and wouldn’t wreak so much havoc in our lives. We sometimes choose to hold onto our stuff more strongly than we ought – what should be held out before God with an attitude of, “Take what you want – even if I desire it a LOT!”, is often held back and because of the grip it has on us, hostilities leak out into our marriage.
A husband gets married and his wife moves in. Only, his vision of marriage was to be King of the Castle, and for his wife to be housekeeper and companion. He didn’t bank on her needing any room, or having any stuff. But every individual has stuff – even if it’s one suitcase full! How will he love his wife by making room for her? For carving out places in his Castle to give fully over to her – to allow her room for her stuff, for her life, for her person? If he fails in this, he fails to love God and his wife – failing in the calling of God on his life as a husband. He fails because he puts himself first, and ignores the needs of his wife. He tramples on her person-hood by not asking her what she would like, where she would like it, could he give her more room, would she like more space in the closet, how could he accommodate her since she is the love of his life! Dear husband, let this not be you!
And as for the wife – I think I tend to struggle more with this – how have you made stuff more important than your husband? I know I have. I find the stuff gets a grip on my heart and suddenly I am drowning in piles of junk just because it was a psychological security blanket at the time. This is not what God intended. He intended to be ALL to me – and that stuff would not mask my need for Him. Instead I fill my life with false idols that make empty promises. This could be my spice rack (full of over a hundred exotic ingredients) or my closet. It could by my craft ambition or it could be my kitchen gadgets. If any of these were causing discord in my marriage, would I be willing to part with them?
This is exactly what happened in my life. I am a clutter-bug, scatter-brained, organizationally challenged – you get the picture. This has caused great growth in patience and kindness and mercy and grace on my husband’s part. Has he been frustrated? Yes. Have we argued? Yes. Have we both thrown our hands up in despair? At times. But I knew it was a problem, I just didn’t know how to fix it. Nor was I sure I wanted to fix it. Until the pain built up and I realized I didn’t want to live this way – stress in living quarters, relational marriage stress, all because of the idols in my life. And sometimes an idol can be so innocuous – so innocent – so small. It can be something as ridiculous as old socks you’re keeping to turn into sock puppets (don’t get any ideas!)
It was Christmas when I finally had had enough (and Sam had had more than enough, but didn’t let on). We went on a trip to Arkansas which took 15 hours of driving. Those 15 hours were precious time to think. To process. To organize my brain. And to discuss with Sam what to do about the stuff. Because I am challenged with organization, I tend to read a lot of books on the subject – but to no avail. The books are inspirational – motivational, even. But they can’t pick you up off the couch and make you change. I felt such a resistance to change – I wanted to, but it was so hard. Wanting to and actually taking a garbage bag and filling it are two very different things!
On the car ride back I told Sam I felt helpless – that the challenge was too great for me. I said that I knew since he was an engineer that he had gifts in this area. I told him I wanted his help if he was willing – even though I am a challenging person to help. So I begged his indulgence and patience and told him I would work really REALLY hard to change in this area. We mapped out a plan (consult oodles of organizing books for ideas about this) and thought through what this would look like. We planned time to devote to the de-cluttering effort. We talked through what it would look like – every Saturday for three months – giving hours to sorting, purging and organizing. I even planned to try frozen meals so I wouldn’t be focussed on meal planning (this was the first time since being married we had ever used pre-made frozen processed food – which was highly motivating to me to end the three month project!)
This was our plan of action. But ultimately it is a project of the heart. I had read some of John Piper’s Future Grace which gave me a theological framework for ridding my life of stuff. I keep stuff as a psychological security blanket, when God wants to be this for me. He wants me to trust Him for His goodness in the future, rather than trusting my garage full of junk to be what I need in the future. I’m not against planning and preparing for the future – but within reason – which may look different for different situations.
So tackle the stuff. Love each other – put each other ahead of the pile. Hold all you own with an open fist saying, “God I want You more than my stuff – I want to offer You my best – all of me, I withhold nothing from You. If you want me to live for You by parting with things, I’ll do it. I say I love You, I say I love my spouse, but if I can’t put my stuff on the altar, my words have no meaning. Let me love You more than anything else! Amen.”