How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Stuff

It’s Wednesday, recycling day. The day in my neighborhood where red bins overstuffed with Amazon boxes line the curb. I should know — my bin looks the same. It seems none of us can resist two-day shipping.

I’ve read enough about minimalism, tidying up, and the Christian discipline of simplicity to know this should make me guilty. And it does. Sometimes. But I don’t want a white-walled home with no comfortable seating. I want piles of books laying around and old cross-stitches from my family on my walls and too many photos of my kids.

In a world where we hear conflicting messages that we are defined by our stuff (consumerism) and that our stuff doesn’t define us (minimalism), what does a healthy relationship with stuff look like? Why do we care so much about our stuff? Why does stuff matter? Should stuff matter?

I don’t know about you, but I need some help here — like a theology of stuff to help guide my thinking and decision-making. Fortunately, Albert Mohler laid out this very thing in a recent episode of The Briefing podcast. Below are my extrapolations on his thoughts and some rules to help you develop a healthy relationship with stuff.

The Value of Stuff

Christians understand that the most important reality is spiritual. Our battles are not against “against flesh and blood, but … against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The Bible teaches that we should value the life of the spirit over the life of the flesh (John 6:63). Believers understand that everything we see in the material world is eventually going to disappear or be forgotten.

The Old and New Testaments explain why we value stuff. It’s because stuff carries with it meaning. We accumulate stuff because we might make that stuff, or someone gave us that stuff, or we know a need for that stuff. In short, we accumulate stuff because it means something to us.

Our things trigger memories. We remember exactly when that family heirloom came into our lives, who gave it to us, and why it matters. This is why we collect stuff that once belonged to our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. That kind of stuff is more than just stuff. It’s important to us because it represents human beings whom we love, cherish, and value.

Sometimes we value stuff not because it is meaningful but because it is useful. We create, design, invent, purchase, and sell stuff that makes life possible or that makes life easier. Think of something as simple as a shovel or as complex as an X-RAY machine. This kind of stuff makes possible things we value, and therefore the stuff itself becomes valuable.

Now, the Bible doesn’t allow the worship of stuff, no matter how meaningful or how useful. It doesn’t allow us to cling too tightly to our belongings. But the Bible does explain why we as human beings tend to surround ourselves with stuff and why that stuff matters to us.

Stuff in the Bible

Scripture gives grave warnings against materialism, against valuing stuff too much (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Timothy 6:7-10; Hebrews 13:5; Luke 12:15, 33). But Scripture also validates stuff, including and owning, giving, and receiving stuff. Think of how the wise men honored Jesus at his birth. They brought stuff in the form of gifts. 

When Jesus sent his disciples out on their first evangelistic mission, he told them to carry very little stuff. Stuff can weight you down. The stuff you own can end up owning you. Christians are not to be hindered by stuff.

While the Bible validates stuff in some ways, it warns us against allowing our stuff to have an outsize influence in our lives and desires. Stuff can tempt us to give in to materialism, consumerism, greed, and coveting. The Bible is clear that these are sins. It’s also clear that stealing someone’s stuff is a sin.

Early Christians demonstrated their love for one another by sharing their stuff. Their stuff became an avenue for blessing instead of sin because of how they used it and refused to hold on to it. 

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Stuff

I do not have a healthy relationship with stuff. I want things, buy too many things, covet things, chase things. I pray almost daily that God would make me not love the world or the things of the world (1 John 2:15). 

As I’ve tried to rid myself of materialism, I’ve found Richard Foster’s 10 rules for simplicity to be helpful. Your mileage may vary, but if you want to crucify your desire for stuff, you have to have a plan. Without a plan, you’ll be discipled by the marketers who know how your brain and heart work far better than you do.

Here are Foster’s 10 rules for simplicity:

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
  2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
  4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
  5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
  7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
  8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech (Matt. 5:37).
  9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
  10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

If you want to read more about these rules, read the chapter on simplicty in Foster’s book The Celebration of the Disciplines or the shorter article on which the chapter was based. For a deep dive, read Foster’s book devoted to the subject called Freedom of Simplicity

Technology, Place, and Incarnational Life

I’ve always thought it must have been a drag for Jesus to go from omnipresence (being present everywhere at the same time) to unipresence (present in just one place at one time). But Jesus didn’t seem to mind.

One of the most moving scenes of Jesus’ life in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible is when Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter, who is about to die. Jesus had agreed to visit and heal the girl, so Jairus, Jesus, and his disciples were moving as quickly as they could through the thick crowd that had formed around Jesus.

Suddenly, Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me?” It turned out to be a frail, old lady who had been bleeding uncontrollably for 12 years. Frustrated by this distraction, Peter tried to hurry Jesus along. Lloyd-Jones imagines the disciples saying, “We don’t have time!” But Jesus always had time, she writes.

“He reached out his hands and gently lifted her head. He looked into her eyes and smiled. ‘You believed,’ he said, wiping a tear from her eye, ‘and now you are well.'”

Jesus could not have loved that woman like that if he had not been incarnate among her, or present with her.

The 3 Essential Elements of Incarnational Life

One of the primary areas of theological discussion regarding technology is a theology of incarnation, which in Christianity refers to the embodiment of God the Son in human flesh as Jesus Christ. You can’t talk about incarnation without speaking into the topics of place and embodiment.

To be incarnate is to be embodied in human form in a particular time and place, as the Son of God was incarnate over 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, though fully God, was limited to being physically present in one place just like any human. His ministry was carried out in an area of only about 30 miles.

To be incarnate like Jesus, to love and live like Jesus, takes focus, attention, and order. These are the three essential elements, if focused in the right direction, of an unhurried, incarnational life like the one lived by Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus always had time because his life had focus — preaching the gospel to the lost sheep of Israel and sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world. That focus allowed him to give his attention to the right things at the right time — like with the frail lady. And his attention was possible because his life was ordered around the right things — prayer, solitude, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines.

Technology and Incarnational Life

If we want to love like Jesus, we must have focus, attention, and order in our lives. But the modern, technological world values none of these things. Sarah Clarkson notes,

“The habits of modern life draw us out of fellowship, away from connection, and toward distraction, absence, and autonomy. While there are certainly benefits to the world or technology, and while social media has in many ways increased connectedness, there are also profound ways in which the overuse of virtual reality and technological media is causing us to become mentally and emotionally absent from the present world of incarnational action.”[1]

This should give Christians pause as they think through how best to incarnate, or bear the image of, Christ in the world around them. The imagination gives birth to creation. And one can only reflect Christ if one has taken the time to internalize His truth and teachings, and tasted His goodness.[2]

“When you understand the reality of incarnation, the way that the physical trappings of our lives and our use of time and space are places where God either comes in His creative presence or remains at bay, you understand that nothing is neutral. Nothing. You can’t just waste an hour on the Internet. You can’t just miss one sunrise in its beauty. No room is just space. No hour is meaningless. No meal is mere sustenance. Every rhythm and atom of existence are spaces in which the Kingdom can come, in which the story of God’s love can be told anew, in which the stuff of life can be turned marvelously into love. We cannot change the world if we cannot incarnate God’s love in our own most ordinary spaces and hours.”[3]

Humans were made to pay attention to the world and people around them. And not just to pay attention, but to bring the love and creativity of God to bear on the world and people around them. The inherent values of the modern technological landscape — autonomy, distraction, interruption, chaos — all work against that purpose. That is not to say technology is all bad, only that Christians must be aware of a technology’s values when thinking through their engagement.

If Christians are not careful, they will find they waste a large portion of their time and life by giving their attention to the consumption of media and products instead of cultivating the kinds of relationships God intended. Aside from technology’s ability to distract away from incarnational life, the consumption of media and products is potentially troublesome in another way.

The Importance of Place

When people are immersed in social networks (not just social media, but networks of people distributed across the Internet), they begin to lose their concept and the value of physical place and what it means to dwell where they are. Bill Gates notes this concern in his book The Road Ahead, speculating that

“the internet would change our patterns of socialization and systems of education, forcing us to rethink the nature of our relationships. The network will draw us together, if that’s what we choose, or let us scatter ourselves into a million mediated communities.’”[4]

For many people today, the latter has become reality.

There have historically been three main understandings of the importance of physicality and place in the church. First, human beings were intentionally created by God to be physical beings, not just spiritual, so any rejection of humans’ physicality is to be resisted (such as with Gnosticism). Second, since humans were created in the image of the triune God, Christians understand humans to be created for community. Last, and most importantly, “God became flesh and blood in the form of Jesus so as to provide a fuller revelation of God.”[5]

Simon Carey Holt sees the call of God to be a call to place:

“The Christian story is a story of places — the most tangible places — from beginning to end. We are made to inhabit. … The story of the incarnation is the story of God en-fleshed in a particular place at a particular time and within a very specific community. So too for us, the call of God is to be in a particular place and there to embody the presence and grace of God. It’s a call to locality. Quite simply, it’s a call to the neighborhood.”[6]

Beauty in Our Own Backyards

Christians are called to neighborhoods. We are to imitate our Master who “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson wonderfully paraphrased John 1:14. When we see our place as a stage where the grand redemptive narrative is still playing out, we see that the great things we desire are not elsewhere for us to chase, but that God is making beauty from ashes in our own backyards.


[1] Sally and Sarah Clarkson, The Life-Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2016), 36–37.

[2] Ibid., 37.

[3] Ibid., 38.

[4] Campbell and Garner, Networked Theology, p. 5.

[5] Ibid., 84.

[6] Simon Carey Holt, God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in Neighbourhood, (Brunswick East, Australia: Acorn Press, 2007), 77.

Q&A with Rod Dreher on Writing

I recently listened to audiobooks of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and How Dante Can Save Your Life. I was familiar with Rod’s blog, which I’ve followed off and on, but had never read any of his books. I was surprised at how much his writing moved me, especially with the Dante book.

Because I liked his style and was impressed at the scope of The Benedict Option (which David Brooks has called “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade”), I reached out to him on Twitter to see if I could ask him some questions about writing. He agreed and gave me his email address. Below is a Q&A based on our correspondence.


Grayson Pope: Based on the acknowledgments, it looks like The Benedict Option was the result of about a decade’s worth of writing, reading, and conversations. But how long did it take you to complete the manuscript once you sat down to write the first words?

Rod Dreher: I signed the book deal in January 2016, and completed the final version of the manuscript in late October. The process involved constantly working with the editor, submitting chapters, taking notes, rewriting, etc. The [manuscript] was locked in late October, but after Trump’s shock victory, we had to go back in and do some fast rewriting of parts of the politics chapter.

GP: How many hours in a typical workday do you spend writing? How many editing?

RD: I have a weird schedule, which is to say, no schedule at all. I work from home, and write around the errands I have to do for my wife and kids. I am not working on a book now, so my schedule is a lot looser than it would be were I at work on a book. I’d say, though, that I spent about 10 hours each day focused on writing. My job at the magazine doesn’t actually involve editing; “senior editor” is a courtesy title.

GP: You seem to have a knack for finding online sources. How do you curate and/or keep track of all the things you find online; do you have a system or just simply bookmark things for later?

RD: No system — I just bookmark things for later. Some stuff is sent to me by readers who know my interests. I also write about books that interest me. One great source of ideas for me: the Mars Hill Audio Journal.

GP: I’ve been unexpectedly moved by your writing. I’m now listening to your Dante audiobook. The introductory section covering what happened after publishing The Little Way shook me, and I found myself choking back tears during a morning walk. Did you learn to write like that or is it something that comes naturally? If it’s learned, which writers were most formative?

RD: Thanks so much for your kind words. My writing doesn’t need a lot of editing, I’ve found. I never edit anything on my blog before posting (for better or worse). Not sure why I can pull off smooth prose like that. I honestly can’t say to what extent I learned to write like that, and to what extent my natural gifts have been honed by lots and lots of practice. Probably more of the latter; blogging has been very good for me in that way, though I think that I would be well served if I had to do more disciplined writing under the yoke of an editor.

I think good writers have to first be (or at least also be) good readers. In general, I like reading the long-form journalism in the New Yorker. Tom Wolfe was also an early inspiration for me, as was Truman Capote. In all honesty, though, I have no method. I read very widely, and just sort of absorb it all. Sometimes people tell me, “You should teach writing sometime.” I wouldn’t last five minutes in front of a class. I genuinely don’t know how I do it. It sounds immodest, maybe, but I’m just being honest. Nobody has ever asked me these questions, so I haven’t had to think about it much.

GP: What one or two things do you wish writers would stop doing?

RD: What do I wish writers would stop doing? Writing hot takes. I’m guilty of this, because it’s my job. But it’s pretty terrible for developing the restraint needed to think about things before popping off. Similarly, I wish writers would lift their heads out of the trough of the present moment and look to the horizon, so to speak. I find that the older I get, the more reading history has to teach me about understanding how ephemeral our cultural moments are, but also how some of the changes that are happening now are REALLY BIG DEALS — but many contemporary writers are so temporally parochial, if you follow me, that they (we) don’t get it. Also, I wish writers would think twice about rushing to live in the same big cities, to join the same monoculture.

GP: What are the easiest and hardest things for you about being a writer?

RD: Easiest thing about being a writer? That I have managed, by the grace of God, to get to a place where that’s what I do as a living. I am acutely aware of how rare this is. I have no serious obstacles in front of me to living out my vocation. The hardest thing by a million miles is SELF-DISCIPLINE. You see that the two things are related, I trust. I have boundless energy for writing, but I am horrible about self-discipline. Just think what I could do if I could stay focused!

GP: What will writers need to know or do in the next 10 years to navigate the changing publishing landscape?

RD: That is an impossible question to answer, I’m afraid. Underline “afraid”. This is something I think about a lot. There is no security in this business. None. I’m in a very good place right now, but there’s no reason it should continue. I am always, always thinking about my next book, not so much as a creative project, but as an act of building a wall between my family and me, and our financial ruin. Does that sound overly dramatic? Maybe it is. But I have lived through four or five rounds of layoffs at newspapers in my career, and it’s scary as hell. I remember how my dad, who was a child of the Great Depression, never felt secure financially. I’m not that guy, but I’m on that spectrum.

On Being Uncompetitive and Running to Acquire a Void

I’ve always felt odd for not being competitive. I played sports growing up (baseball, golf, football, neighborhood basketball) but never really cared if I won or lost. Perhaps this is why, save for my four years in college, I haven’t been very passionate about watching sports, either.

This is a strange thing to articulate, though I’m not sure why. To admit being uncompetitive feels a bit un-American, or at least unusual. Thankfully, Haruki Murakami — an esteemed novelist and avid runner — explained his similar feelings in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

“The thing is, I’m not much for team sports. That’s just the way I am. Whenever I play soccer or baseball — actually, since becoming an adult this is hardly ever — I never feel comfortable. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any brothers, but I could never get into the kind of games you play with others. I’m also not very good at one-on-one sports like tennis. I enjoy squash, but generally when it comes to a game against someone, the competitive aspects makes me uncomfortable. And when it comes to martial arts, too, you can count me out.

Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not totally uncompetitive. It’s just that for some reason I never cared all that much whether I beat others or lost to them. This sentiment remains pretty much unchanged after I grew up. It doesn’t matter what field you’re talking about — beating somebody else just doesn’t do it for me. I’m much more interested in whether I reach the goals that I set for myself, so in this sense long distance running is the perfect fit for a mindset like mine.”

I’m no long-distance runner like Murakami (he once ran 62 miles in one day), but I do try to run four miles four to five days a week. To some degree, my motive for running is the same; I want to accomplish my goal of hitting the mileage and pace I like.

But more than that, I run for mental and emotional health. I’ve found that running several days a week and walking the others (I go out the same time nearly every morning) keeps me from starting and continuing the day wracked with anxiety.

This is why I’m not interested in running with anyone. It’s nothing personal —it’s not that I don’t want to run with you — it’s that I don’t want to run with anyone because to do so would compromise the solitude needed for me to quell my anxious heart and mind. 

Here again, I resonate with Murakami:

“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring.”

It’s not that I run to avoid people. I love spending time with my family and friends and others when I’ve had sufficient alone time. But unless I spend time alone, I’m nowhere near my best for communing with anyone.

My time alone must be filled with wandering thoughts and not thinking at all. Other than showering, running is the only activity in my life capable of producing that state of mind.

As I run, I don’t think of much of anything. Like Murakami, 

“I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. … The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go.”

A shot of the sunrise on one of my Fall 2018 runs.

Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

Before I wrap up this mini-series on Appreciating the Bible, let me say a final word about Bible study (in case you missed a post, read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible?).

The temptation when reading or thinking about Bible study is to think of it as a chore or just another list of things you should be doing.

But Bible study doesn’t have to be a chore.

Rick Warren has said,

“Reading the Bible generates life, it produces change, it heals hurts, it builds character, it transforms circumstances, it imparts joy, it overcomes adversity, it defeats temptation, it infuses hope, it releases power, it cleanses the mind.”

When you’re Bible-reading is like that, it’s no longer a chore.

Once you have the tools to really read the Bible for yourself and you start to read it regularly, you’ll find this to be a reality in your life. You’ll find that you’re delighting in the Bible more and more, and it’s starting to taste sweeter than honey in your mouth.

That’s my prayer for you. That reading the Bible wouldn’t be a chore but a life-giving practice, so that you would be able to say for yourself, like the great reformer Martin Luther,

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold [of] me.”


This is part 5 in the Appreciating the Bible series. Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible?