I watched last week as two girls fought over a jacket. Or at least one girl was fighting over a jacket, the other was beat up over that jacket. Ugh. It seems that the jacket was in the downstairs coat closet where their father mostly keeps his jackets. Kate (all names have been changed to protect the guilty) grabbed a jacket thinking it was her dad’s, but when she put it on it was smallish and she realized it had to be her dad’s girlfriend’s jacket, whom she knew would not mind her wearing it.
Kate’s sister, Brittany, came downstairs and was furious to see Kate in the jacket because she said the dad’s girlfriend had given it to her. (In truth, she’d asked for it, and the girlfriend said yes, she could use it. I’m not sure it was quite “given” to her in the way she presumes, but that’s not really the point.) I’m not sure that any good will come from describing the scene that followed, but suffice it to say she attacked her sister both verbally and physically (and frankly, brutally) before ripping the jacket off of her. I came running upstairs at the commotion. Kate was crying. Brittany was livid. The jacket lay on the table and Brittany never bothered with it again, once she’d gotten it from her sister. I am not sure that she wanted the jacket so much as she didn’t want her sister to have it.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing the particulars of these two girls or their family or how they got to this point. It’s easy to judge when we aren’t in their shoes. And frankly, I’m not sure any of us really want to be casting that first stone.
I bring this up because I have been wondering how often God sees this scene playing out among His children…among humanity here on earth.
It seemed so utterly absurd to me at the time. Who acts like that? Ask nicely, or just let her wear it! Or come tell me and let me handle it (as I was the authority figure in the house at the time). But honestly, who just attacks someone like that over a jacket??? It wasn’t even hers. She wasn’t even wanting to wear it. It’s ridiculous, really! And certainly, their dad’s girlfriend did not intend for Brittany to hurt her sister over that jacket! SHE would have just as freely given it to Kate to wear as she had to Brittany. (Maybe even more so as Kate takes much better care of the things given to her.) Not to mention, they were in a house full of available jackets. It’s not like anyone was in desperate need of that jacket.
But don’t we do the same? We have something that is ours because God gave it to us. At least, that’s how we think about it. And the moment someone takes it from us, we go postal. That is ours! That is mine! And because we think it is ours we feel fully justified in taking any measures (necessary or not) to get it back. We forget that everything we have is God’s and He can give and He can take away, freely. We forget that HE would never want us to hurt each other over our “stuff”. We forget that He might want us to let someone else wear our His jacket that day. We forget that it’s not really ours in the first place. Everything we have is His and we are simply stewards. We forget that we don’t have to fight for our own, but that we can come to Him and ask Him for help with getting it back.
I think this is why He especially doesn’t want us in the church suing each other. It’s true, sometimes people aren’t so innocent. Sometimes they steal from us, intentionally, even when we are from the same family—God’s family. Even so, God wants us to come to Him first and ask Him how to handle things. He doesn’t want us to hurt each other in our quest to right a wrong. He wants us to remember that people are more important that jackets and stuff, and that He can replace what is taken, if He chooses to.
This is why Jesus says things like, if a soldier requires you to carry his stuff for a mile, volunteer to carry it a second. It is a violation of your time and energy, sure, but it’s also a way to remember for yourself and to demonstrate to others that people matter more than our time and energy. Why? Because people will know we are Christians by our love, not by the way we defend our stuff.
One of my all-time favorite illustrations of this is in Les Miserables. Jean Val Jean was caught red-handed. He had stolen the silver out of the church. That was bad enough, but to make it worse, he stole from the one man who had shown him kindness and mercy, the kindly priest of that church. All that priest had to do was to tell the police, “Yes, he stole the silver from me.” Everyone knew he had. He was within his “rights” to say so and Jean Val Jean would have been in prison for the rest of his life. He deserved it. The priest, however did not take offense or take it personally, nor did he demand his stuff back. Instead, he said it was a gift and that Jean Val Jean had forgotten to take the most valuable pieces, the candelabras. He gave him the rest of the silver and sent him on his way with the hope and prayer that he would use the silver for good, to buy himself a new life and a fresh start. That simple act of mercy was a turning point for Jean Val Jean, and he went on to save many other poor such souls. Beautiful. This is the mindset Christ would ask of us.
See how He points to this in His word:
- “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God,” 2 Corinthians 9:11 (emphasis added). God is generous with us so that we can give to others, not so we can keep it for ourselves.
- “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted,” (Job 42:2). If no purpose of God’s can be thwarted, then we need not fear when we are wronged, or when someone takes our jacket.
- “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” (Job 1:21). If it is the Lord who both gives and takes away, then we don’t have permission to go postal on our fellow man for being God’s agent of removal.
- “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it… They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior” (Psalm 24:1-5). Everything and everyone in the world is God’s, not ours. Add to that, the promise that HE will give both blessing and vindication… therefore we need not take either into our own hands. He will bless and vindicate us.
- Whatever is meant to harm us, God can use for our good (see Romans 8:28 and Genesis
As we approach Christmas, a season where we are given even more stuff, I pray we take on the mind of Christ. That we see ourselves as stewards and that we remember people are more important than our stuff. If someone takes our jacket, maybe we just call it a gift and pray they are blessed by it—a little bit of turning the other cheek in action.
One final note – I said I didn’t want to get into the specifics of why Brittany acted the way she did, but I think it might be helpful to think for a second about the mentality that might be behind it. Not the circumstances that created that mentality, but a look at the mindset itself might help us think through our own lives when we go to Crazy-Town over someone wearing our jacket, so to speak.
If you have an orphan mentality, if you think no one loves you and you’re all alone in the world, then that jacket can easily become a symbol that someone actually cares about you, and/or that you are worth caring about. For Brittany, it’s possible that that jacket was a symbol for her of affection from a mother figure which she so desperately longed for. When it was taken, it was a threat on a lot of levels. Not only did she lose (in her mind anyway) the sign of someone’s affection towards her, but it was also a sign that that mother figure would love her sister as much or more than her. Losing that jacket to her sister threatened her feelings that she was unique, special, loved… it was even a threat to her identity in many ways. Not to mention, it also meant a loss of control over what she felt was hers (the jacket and all that it symbolized for her).
If, however, we know we are really, truly loved, then our stuff is just stuff. It may represent the affection from whence it came, but the love and affection remains with us whether the stuff does or not. We can respond with grace when we are confident in God’s love for us. And we can let the stuff go when we know God can easily replace whatever is taken from us. We can even go a step further and give things joyfully, eager to spread the love that is overflowing in our hearts…so long as we are not orphans but rather much loved children.