What matters to you? Really matters?
Those valuables fill the treasure chests of who we are; they are the stuff without which we wouldn't be us. They are like Linus' blanket in the Peanuts cartoons, the Ring in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; they are Juliet to Romeo, rhythm to a musician, milk to a baby, air to the drowning, rest to the weary. These things matter; their loss can bring great pain, their presence great pleasure.
When we lose one of these treasures, some part of our souls that really matters, the pain can show what has been most important all along, though we might have missed it. A loved one who dies, a retirement that changes everything in our daily lives, a child going to high school or getting married, a friend moving across the country—these changes can show us what has really mattered, what has been most us.
And that pain of loss can raise a question; have we placed the right things in our treasure chest? Have we valued above all the real treasure of our lives?
When we experience an unexpected pleasure, some event or person that raises a part of our souls we didn’t know needed raising, that too can show what’s most important, what should occupy the most valuable place in our treasure chest. Parents of an adopted child, like one of our sons and his wife, know the sheer joy that can come from taking a child into the family heart to be loved into life. But then, sometimes, a surprise arrives! And the treasure of family can grow exponentially, can become a center of life’s treasure chest, when a biological child is added to the home.
That incomparable pleasure of gaining the unexpected can raise another question: had our treasure chest previously been quite empty? Had we been missing the real treasure of our lives all along, before this unexpected pleasure? When we are surprised by joy it's not like air conditioning, not like finding something nonessential we didn't previously have. When the serendipity of God's love brings a calling, a special friend, a church where we fit, a new insight into the depth and breadth and length and height of the love of Christ then we can then realize our lives were incomplete, that the treasure chest had an empty place until God's loving hand intervened with His gift.
The treasure chest is of course a matter of values. Allow me to paraphrase a few words concerning values from my book, Climbing Home: From Valleys of Despair to Mountains of Hope: “Values represent the belief in good and the actions and feelings associated with that belief. Values are faith and love in action. Values are the practical, behavioral form of loving God, ourselves, each other, and life, ….” Values show what matters, what really matters to us.
There are, for most of us, a few things that we may care a little about, but it would be no great loss if they were gone. Many of us in America think we must have air conditioning or "we'd just die." But when I was a boy it was different. Our family took great joy in an old attic fan and the breeze it wound render on a hot summer night. Not only that, but on a sure enough hot evening we would sprinkle the sheets lightly with water; and the evaporation through the night would lull us into a pleasant sleep. And one of the best things about football season was that the bands and uniforms and rush of touchdowns were signs that cool nights were on the way soon. Air conditioning didn't matter all that much, not really; we didn't miss what we didn't have.
We need to know, to experience the significance, the beauty, the wonder, and grace of the life God gives us. We can demean the gift if our treasure chest is filled only with things that can be blown away in a storm or ruined by a flood, things like air conditioning. We can choose to fill our treasure chests above all with valuables that can't be destroyed by storms of life. We can choose to focus on what William Faulkner, in his 1950 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, called “…the old verities of the human heart, the old universal truths…—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” We can, in other words, choose to treasure above all the gifts that are essential in God’s loving us into life. As Paul invites the Philippian Christians, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Those gifts of God's loving us into life can endure the storms, within and without, that life brings to each of us.
Jesus said, “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). We can certainly enjoy, as a part of God’s good gifts and as a part of healthy life in Christ, houses and air conditioning and games and cars and fine vacations. But we can also enjoy the safety and comfort of lives focused on the treasures of God’s unchanging love, treasures that can endure whatever medical or financial or developmental or other storms may come. We can enjoy the objects of our value with safety, come what may, if our treasure chest is filled with eternal values--with the gold and silver and precious stones of love that “…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7), with the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10, Ps. 28:7), and with the “..peace of God, that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
When the heart of our values is Jesus and His love for us all, joy in His presence, and the peace of life in Him, then our treasure and God's will be the same.