A few years ago, I readjusted the paint cans, tools and miscellaneous stuff that had collected on our garage shelves. The result was more space for more stuff! That evening I heard a loud noise in the garage. Two shelves came crashing down. It was a slimy mess. There was spilled paint, thinner and motor oil mixed in with tools and auto parts all over the floor. It was now obvious how poorly the shelves had been anchored.
We all struggle with shelf life. Everything from organizing our kitchen cupboards to our lives, to our community activities, to our family responsibilities, to our garage shelving. What do we do with all the stuff that goes on in our lives? In my case, the top shelf was too heavy for the anchors, and as it fell, it broke down a second shelf. The result was mass confusion.
We each do our shelving in different ways. We might try to order our lives so neatly that we never find the right place on the shelf for anything and thus create our own mass confusion. We might put the most important realities of our lives on the least visible and accessible shelf where it collects dust. We may shelve people we don’t like, people of different political or religious persuasion, people with problems, people who are old, children who annoy us, people who are sick, mentally ill, alcoholic, poor or homeless, people who do not look or act like us. We may shelve ourselves with attitudes and feelings that deny our own importance and usefulness. Maybe we have had a church experience that felt like we were shelved only to collect dust?
Shelving is important! How we anchor the shelf to hold the stuff is important. Knowing when to remove the stuff that no longer belongs on the shelf is important. Prioritizing what should be on the shelf is important.
I would urge you to anchor your life well. God’s love doesn’t solve our shelving problem, but does help us look at our shelf life. Are the items on the shelf reflective of our values? Where can I get help to be compatible with myself and others? What is crowding out the important stuff? What is jerking the anchors out of the wall? What is it I need to do to avoid the big mess?
Typically the churches in our community have their shelving problems as well. They need space for Sunday school materials, paper, kitchen utensils, food pantry items, books and boxes. Many, I suspect, lack storage space, just as we do in our homes and our lives. The anchor and purpose of all that stuff needs to be put into perspective.
Hebrews 6:19-20 gives us an insight into shelf life: “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives. It is safe and secure. ... On our behalf, Jesus has gone in there before us and has become a high priest forever.”
Faith should not be seen as set apart from all the realities we face in life. Faith does not take away the struggle, but gives hope in the midst of it. I will continue to struggle, as you will, with what belongs on the self.
The church should be a place where we can struggle with our respective realities in an environment of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. I am thankful Christ is our anchor who works with us in keeping our shelving intact. May our shelf life be long, as together we live life as a gift from a generous and caring God.
• Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.