One of the most shocking things to a first time parent is the amount of stuff a baby seems to accumulate. Even with the best of intentions for minimalism when it comes to our child Liam, the stuff quickly ads up. Some of it fulfills legitimate needs – diapers, warm winter clothes, bottles for day care. Some can be justified – he outgrew one carrier, so we needed a bigger, more versatile one. Much, however I hate to admit it, he’d get by just fine without … ten pairs of BabyLegs? Skull and crossbones shoes for a kid who can’t walk? The bottle warmer that’s been used maybe five times in the past seven months? I doubt he even notices.
Traveling with him magnifies the problem. Where once two went with an overnight bag, a third requires a package of diapers, the Pack and Play, two pacifiers (in case one gets lost or dropped somewhere unsavory), toys for the car, toys for the destination, double the amount of clothing … my packing lists go on and on.
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus commissions the seventy-two disciples to go and spread the Good News. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals,” he tells them. As terrifying as it may have been for them, there must have been a certain freedom in letting go of the stuff and believing Jesus when he told them that they would be fed and sheltered.
All of the readings this week speak of joy and abundance. Sometimes, our stuff can become weights, tying us down with racing to keep it and the fear of losing it. We often consider the environmental and social justice implications of acquiring and disposing of stuff, but what about the spiritual consequence? What happens to who we are when getting and keeping things becomes our most urgent task? Holding on to and accumulating stuff is not abundance, it does not bring true joy.
Jesus charges his disciples to go to the cities he intended to visit, carry nothing, and rely on the kindness of strangers. If they are welcome, they are free to stay, preach, and perform miracles. If there is no welcome, they can keep on moving. Jesus reminds us through this passage that our stuff is not the stuff of our lives, not what sustains us. Hospitality, gratitude, compassion, and the quality of our relationships are what really matter. Which is what I need to remind myself every time I have the urge to buy another pair of BabyLegs – Liam’s just as delighted, bare-legged, when he has Mama to clap and sing and laugh with.
Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan, son Liam, and their mostly blind dachshund.