Picture me sitting on a stool in front of three file cabinets in my garage. I am sorting through files representing almost fifty years of pastoral ministry. The files contain schedules of events, mementoes, photos, and letters from church members and friends. I know I must discard all of it. I cannot take it with me when I leave Oklahoma. There simply will not be room in the apartment where Connie and I will be living, beginning next week.
Picture me with tears running down my face as I read notes of appreciation from people who say they have been helped in some way by my ministry. I can’t help the tears and I am not ashamed to admit that reading these letters again is an emotional experience.
Picture me sifting and sorting though files of Bible study materials, notes of countless sermons, and the fruits of years of exegetical study. Much of it has to go. I must reduce everything to only one file cabinet to take with me. In this one cabinet will be the Bible study resources I hope to use in the future if the Lord allows me to continue to teach or preach.
The files and notebooks I discard end up filling two curbside trash bins. I have to let go of all of it, letters, photos, journals, and memories, memories, memories. Moving soon to a retirement community in another state has proven to be the intervention that I thought would come much later. I had thought (foolishly I realize now) that there would be time in retirement to savor these memories in a more leisurely fashion. It is not to be.
I have learned a few things from this experience.
Lesson one: Keep the memories in your heart. My sensible wife said, “If you haven’t looked at it in 25 years it’s not important.” She is right, of course. When I ask her how she can find the courage to throw away our wedding pictures and family photo albums, she points to her heart and says, “I have them all in here!” I happen to know she has them in her phone too.
Lesson two: God encourages us through people. Some of the letters I found in my files were from people who have been dead for years. I remember them with fondness. They took the time to write to their pastor to let him know what his preaching, his visits, his counsel, or his prayers meant to them. I was blessed to have many friends who were nicer to me than I deserved.
Reading those notes and letters was, for me, a little taste of what I think heaven may be like when the Lord pulls back the curtain and shows us more of the impact we have had in the lives of his people. It was really thoughtful of those friends to write to me. There were times when an encouraging note provided just the lift I needed to keep going in the ministry.
Lesson three: Travel light. This lesson, a reminder from my experience in backpacking, applies as well to life’s pilgrimage. We don’t need all the stuff that fills our attics, closets, garages, and storage units. The Bible tells us what is going to happen to it anyway. It’s all going away. It is people, not things, who have an eternal destiny and infinite worth in the sight of the Creator.
The attic up above is empty. The garage is cleaner than it has been in 22 years. Bookshelves are vacant. The furniture has been transported to our new home, or distributed to the homes of our children. I will now admit, that it is something of a relief not to be carrying the emotional weight of all that stuff.
The patriarch Job put it well: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
Pastor Randy Faulkner