What I won’t need when I die?

“I’m happy to leave America and go and die with my friends in Africa,”

These words were a small part of another huge conversation I had recently with friends from the States. They have visited Hong Kong several times since our family came here over 3 years ago – and always their visit is fused into a larger landscape of service and volunteering in a number of countries in this part of the world – orphanages in Thailand, outreach in slum communities in the Philippines – and of course long, hard days here at Crossroads helping in whatever way is needed on any given day.

Last year Daryl and Mary took a team of young people to Africa for several months to serve the poor. They have been doing this sort of thing for many years now. And they truly, genuinely, absolutely love it!

Both are in the prime of their lives, both work, both meet all the basic financial obligations of living in a place like the USA. So how do they mange to spend around 4 to 5 months every year ‘taking time out’ to serve others on no pay?

“It’s simple’, Daryl said, as he relaxed in our lounge one night, after a day’s physical labour on site. ” Mary and I work a certain number of months every year to facilitate our taking the remaining months to do our service trips. We work to pay our bills, and save enough to cover the time when we will be away on no income.”

Jim and I listened…..

Daryl continued, ” Mary and I decided many years ago to set a basic level of income need, and anything above that goes into what we really live for – serving wherever we are called. We have simplified our lives to base essentials – and we are free to serve.’

“How many strings do you have?”, Daryl asked us. As we mulled on this rather profound question,  he continued. “We all have strings attaching us to stuff – the more strings we can cut, the freer we’ll be to hear the call and respond.”

It seems everywhere Jim and I turn we are hearing, reading, witnessing in living real colour, this deepest of truths – stuff, in all its various ramifications, ties us up, chains us to responsibilities and commitments that we realise somewhere deep inside us, will never bring us peace and fulfillment – BUT we can’t seem to cut the strings.

And by stuff, Daryl didnt just mean houses and cars and the latest upgrades in phones and plasma televisions. Our society and our media’s sole goal, it seems, is to keep convincing us 24/7 that we need more of everything – more toys, more insurance, more of more.  And so the ‘stuff’ in our head becomes fixations like – ‘I need to get as much money for me as I can – not just for all my present wants – but for all the future ones as well – I need to plan right up to the day I die, and make sure that when I do, I’ll not only  be very comfortable, but have stored in savings accounts and retirement funds the accumulation of my life’s labours. ‘

And so the time to serve, to take the proverbial leap from the boat, never comes. It NEVER comes! Because the paradigm we construct our decisions on becomes the all consuming and all enslaving – ‘this and this and this box needs to be ticked BEFORE I start thinking about someone else.’

We all have those boxes, but after spending time with Mary and Daryl, I have had confirmed to me again that the boxes are actually strings…..or chains. And you know what, society as it presently is, will make sure you will never get to tick them all – there will  always be something more you need to get, to do, to earn, to ‘sort out’.

“In the States,” Daryl reflected,” people are saving money all their lives so they can afford to move into a ‘good’ retirement home. That’s become ‘The Goal’ for many people we know personally.”

Jim and I kept listening….

I thought about some people we know back in Australia – who even in retirement, with more than adequate funds and a ‘lifestyle’ which 90% of the world can only fantasize about, are still ticking boxes. Still existing inside a worldview that literally cannot conceive a life outside of maximum personal comfort and financial ‘padding’.

“I don’t need to die in America, in a retirement home which has literally cost me my life to qualify to get into.” Daryl looked at Mary, and she was smiling her characteristic beautiful smile which, if one could capture ‘peace’ into a momentary visual icon-   this smile was it!

“When the time comes, we don’t need all that to die. We have friends all over the world, who are our family, to whom we can go – places where we have invested our energies and our love.  Mary and I are happy to die in an African village or a Philippine slum – in the end it doesn’t matter where we die, but how we’ve lived, and how we’ve been obedient to what we are called to do.”

Truth is always beautiful – but it’s hard as well. Simplifying our lives, even when we decided to come to Hong Kong, was the MOST complicated and time consuming process I had ever experienced!

But it has been worth every ounce of stress and difficulty. AND – the simplifying hasn’t finished, AND I am getting the feeling more and more that for us it has only really started.

In my head I now have a little list of all the things I won’t need when I depart this mortal coil.

I won’t need all my stuff. I won’t need to be worried about what our house is currently worth or whether interest rates will go up again. I won’t be too bothered about what sort of car Jim is driving at the time or  whether I really should have lashed out and bought  the ‘ fresh on the market’ new I Touch. And I probably won’t be tossing and turning wondering whether Great Aunt Roberta  is going to leave me her cache of jewels.

And you know what I won’t need the most?  The opinions of  people, well meaning or no, who thought we should have done this, or not done that. Man’s approval will take a very distant second to what the Carpenter will say.

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