Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Filling Our Emptiness

I've been watching the show "Hoarders" lately.  It chronicles the lives of people who have an addiction to "stuff."  They live for the thrill of acquiring things, whether new or second-hand, and they are so attached to this "stuff" that they absolutely cannot throw anything away.  Professional organizers and psychologists attempt to help the people clean out their homes and reset their thinking patterns, but more often than not the attempts fail.  This need to gather and stockpile junk has been recognized as a mental disorder and labeled "Compulsive Hoarding."  After watching a few episodes and listening to these people talk, I am compelled to believe that it is more than a mental imbalance; it is a spiritual emptiness.

Over and over people on this show talk about the pleasure they get from buying "stuff."  It makes them feel good, it gives them a rush.  One woman talked about how, when all of her loved ones went away, her "stuff" was still there.  Her attachment to her piles of junk eventually cost her a relationship with her daughter.  Another young woman used her heaps of clutter to drown out feelings of inadequacy and depression.  So many of the people on the show talk about how their collections make them happy.  But obviously their stuff hasn't made them happy, or they wouldn't feel the need to continue acquiring things. 

What I see in the people on this show is a deeply rooted need for acceptance, for validation and value.  One woman wept openly when, as she was sorting through things from her attic, she came across the clothes her children wore as babies and toddlers.  She wanted so desperately to hold on to the memories attached to those clothes, as if somehow it made her past more real to her.  It was almost as if she was afraid that if she let go of those clothes, she was letting go of her kids, letting go of her past as if it never happened.  I felt her despair as she sobbed over the clothing.  I wanted to look in her eyes and tell her that it was all going to be okay, that these things didn't define her or control her.  I wanted to tell her to look at her children -- living, breathing testimonies of her years at home with them -- and see that her life as a mother was real.  That things are temporary -- here today and gone tomorrow -- but her loved ones were there to stay.  Most of all I wanted to tell her about Jesus and His love and how He could make her whole.  

It makes me think of Zacchaeus.  He was a man that everyone despised.  Such a lonely existence he must have had.  I can't help but think that he longed for acceptance.  But as a tax collector, acceptance was hard to come by.  And so he sought his comfort in money.  He took as much as he could from the people of Jericho.  He was a very wealthy man and he loved his money.  You could probably even say he hoarded it.  And yet the satisfaction it gave him was... empty.  Just like Zacchaeus.  Until Jesus came along, that is.  When Jesus looked him in the eye and said, "I'm coming to your house today," Zacchaeus' heart must have nearly leapt out of his chest.  When was the last time someone actually wanted to come to his house?  Finally, he found what he most desperately wanted: acceptance.  And he found it in Jesus.

Each one of the people featured on Hoarders is searching for something.  In fact, I think we're all searching for something.  Something that "stuff" can't provide.  Something that only God can give us.  Whether we need love, or security, or acceptance, or validation... Whatever it is that we're missing, it can only be found in a relationship with our precious Savior.  Nothing else will fill that void, no matter how much junk -- figurative or literal -- we stuff into it.  And I know how hard it is to let go of some of those things that we hold onto, I know how terrifying it can be to "clean up" and get rid of some things that we think we need.  The good news is that once we do, and once we let God fill us up with Himself, the freedom we find is incomparable.  Like the rare person on Hoarders who actually gets his house cleaned out, we can experience that renewal and refreshment that comes with getting rid of all the unnecessary junk.  We can be free from all the garbage that was holding us captive and -- finally -- really live.  "For if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed"  (John 8:36).  I think even a Hoarder would agree: that is, after all, what we're really after.

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