I looked into each room I passed on my way to lead Sunday worship for the Health Care Unit. Some of the rooms had two residents and some were singles. Each had a bed or two and a window and some personal items softening the institutional feel of the room. One or two looked to be fully furnished with antiques, but most had just one or two personal pieces of furniture and/or artwork.
As I walked down that hallway last Sunday I wondered how these ladies made the decision about what to keep and what to leave behind. I knew that for many this was just the last of a number of events that required them to make this decision. They were mostly widowed, mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They had lived in homes large enough to hold families with children and pets until the nest was empty and it was time to downsize. Some lived in smaller homes for while before retirement and time to downsize again, this time to move to a retirement home, perhaps in a community like this one. Eventually the time came when they could no longer live on their own or even in assisted living, when they needed nursing care around the clock. Time once more to downsize.
That decision had to be hard each time they had to ask themselves, "What do I keep and what do I leave behind?" I remember when my mother moved from the family house to the retirement house and how hard that was for her. I remember how she would pick up a precious memory and try to decide if there would be room for it in the new living space. Some she picked up and put down repeatedly, simply unable to make up her mind until the very last moment before the movers came. I can't even imagine what it must be like to have to decide which few items from a long and fruitful life I would keep with me until the end, in the room where I would live out my last days. Which things were of the most value to my heart? Which would give the most pleasure when my eyes fell upon it in the evening before I slept? Which could I simply not live without?
It's been a bit like that in my faith journey. Some, if not most, of the things I learned to believe as a child and young adult simply do not apply to my life today. Some of them I've outgrown, like guardian angels. Others I've rejected entirely as unloving, unmerciful and unjust - all the things God is not. I have kept the beliefs that bring joy and peace, that stimulate my mind and soul, that bring me closer to God's kingdom, that make me want to seek ways to serve God and God's people. As time goes by, as I learn new things about God and the world and myself, I find myself sorting through my beliefs again, leaving behind anything that doesn't conform to those two greatest commandments that Jesus left us with, ""You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 22:37-39
ln the end the things that I choose to keep are the things that help me live toward God's beloved community; the knowledge of God's love, mercy, and compassion, God's passion for justice, and God's great desire for reconciliation between God's self and all of God's creation.