Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Things We Leave Behind

This summer our family had to make the difficult and painful decision to leave our home in Central Asia and return to the United States for a time. We have lived overseas for several years and had established our primary home there. Now we must dispose of all the things we have acquired and shipped there over the years because, while we plan to return in the future, that will not happen for at least three years due to the needs of our children. Central Asia does not have self-storage units for rent, our local friends generally have very small apartments, and our other foreign friends live transient lives just as we do. This leaves us with limited options for long-term storage. With this in mind my wife and I returned here this month to sell and give away most of our things. We will bring a few personal items back with us, but the vast majority of our belongings will be better off remaining behind.

Michael Card sings a song entitled “Things we leave behind.” In it he reminds us that: “We can't imagine the freedom we find, from the things we leave behind.” I've always liked this song. Now I have the opportunity to embrace that freedom wholeheartedly. But while I affirm the idea and even the result, the process of freeing oneself from one's possessions is painful and tedious. I suppose it would be easier if we just decided to part with everything, because then we wouldn't have to look at each item and decide whether it is important enough to hang on to. Because we do want to hang on to a few things though, especially those things that are important to our children, we must go through that process and after several days of it we are weary and sad. We know that we don't need most of the things we will pass on and in fact are filled with joy at the prospect of blessing our friends with many of them, but almost every item has some memories attached to it and letting go comes at an emotional price, be it large or small. Yes, we find freedom in the things we leave behind. But breaking those chains hurts.

Yesterday we moved out our children's bedroom furniture. On the one hand I was delighted to see it go, because it feels like a big step in emptying the house. I also knew that the items were going to people who could really use them and I found joy and comfort in that. But my wife and I also felt sadness seeing it go, because it was a tangible indicator that we do not expect to return here with our children, who will be ready for college by the time we expect to come back. We hope they will come to visit, maybe even for an extended period, but we don't expect them to live with us regularly here again. As has so often been the case in my life, joy tastes somewhat bittersweet.

I look forward to coming out on the other side of this process and enjoying the freedom of the things we have left behind. As we establish ourselves in the US again, I want to avoid accumulating things, although I know this will be the natural inclination. Our culture compels us in that direction, but I want to hold on to the freedom that I am gaining this month. Although bittersweet, it is truly liberating.