When I married my husband, I became a part of his extended family. We lived next door to his parents and his grandmother, Olivia, who lived with them. By the time I met Olivia, she was a sweet elderly woman with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s. She had broken her hip and could no longer live in her own home alone, so her house was locked up and her car sold. She had a small room at my in-laws’ house with a few pieces of her own furniture and belongings.
I never thought about the home that sat empty in town until after she died. We then had to sell her house and split the proceeds among her children. They all had homes of their own and didn’t want or need to move into Olivia’s home.
We loaded up our car with boxes and set out to sort through Olivia’s belongings and pack everything up in preparation for selling the house. As we started to organize the first room, an overwhelming sense of sadness flooded me. This woman and her husband had worked many years to pay for this house to provide a home for their family. They had boxes of photographs and keepsakes that meant enough to them that they had saved them. Olivia had dishes that were used for special events. She had silver sets and china that she had used only for her church women’s luncheons, and dishes that were brought out only for holidays. She had things she had inherited from her mother that she had cherished.
Most of these belongings would be sold or packed away, forgotten in an attic. No one wanted them. Photos that meant enough to Olivia that she had displayed them on her wall were trashed because no one knew who those people were.
This haunted me. Someone else would be using Olivia’s things; someone else would be living in this home that she had worked so hard to pay for and to make comfortable for her family. I felt such grief!
I finally realized that what was bothering me was putting myself in Olivia’s place. Is this what will happen when I grow old? Would my husband and I work for years to pay off our home and acquire treasures that one day would be sold to the highest bidder? If that was the case, at what point do I stop acquiring these things? What is the point of accumulating them at all?
God allowed me to wallow in these thoughts for a while. Then He brought a few scriptures to my mind that gave me some perspective.
Matthew 6:19-21:“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
And Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV).*
There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, providing a home for yourself and your family. There’s nothing sinful in handing down memories to our children in the form of earthly treasures. The sin comes when we live our lives with treasure-storing as our main goal. The sin comes when we give a great deal of time and attention to earthly treasures and neglect storing up treasures in heaven.
I had the wrong perspective. That happens every time we take our eyes off Jesus.
I’m happy that someone is making use of those things that meant something to Olivia. Olivia was a godly woman, so I have no doubt that she would not resent a stranger using them. Her real legacy was the example she set for her family and the obedience she gave to her Lord. That’s the legacy that I want to leave.
* Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Cheryl Bolton is a freelance writer and director of a preschool ministry in Valley, Alabama. She and her husband have two children and one granddaughter.