Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith or Sharon Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

 From: Money Sex and Spiritual Power by Keith Drury
(c) 1992 Wesley Press

Chapter 3


Sharon Drury

We learned a life-changing lesson about money while hiking the Appalachian Trail for three months as a young couple. It was only one week after we were married that my husband began talking about taking a great trek on the famed Appalachian Trail in the eastern part of the United States. It had been a life-long goal of my husband. The dream eventually infected me too. But the timing wasn't right. We had schooling to complete, bills to pay, and life to get on with.

Then our chance came. My husband had finished seminary, and we seemed to be in an interim year. The old dream of trekking on the Appalachian Trail was resurrected. Soon we were in our parents' basement amidst a myriad of backpacking paraphernalia sorting out what to take and what to leave behind. Moccasins to lounge around in after a day in stiff hiking boots would be so comfortable -- I packed them in. A tiny transistor radio to keep in touch with the outside world, especially for weather reports -- in it went. A small bag of essentials that formed my basic make-up kit -- definitely. I was intent on making my 3-month journey in the woods as comfortable as possible.

One by one we carefully packed each item. Satisfied that we had everything we needed, I shouldered my pack and weighed in. Subtracting my own weight, I found my pack weighed about 40 pounds. My husband's pack weighed in at almost 50 pounds. Neither of these were extraordinarily heavy according to the prevailing wisdom of our backpacking friends. We lifted them to our backs, tightened the waist strap snugly, and walked around a bit. They actually felt fairly comfortable. At least in the basement where we'd packed them.

Carrying them on the trail was quite another matter. The next day we started our three month trek at Springer Mountain, Georgia, where the Appalachian Trail begins (or ends if you are traveling south). It was a foggy, cold March morning when we saw our first white-painted trail markings that would lead us north toward our goal. Our spirits were high as we signed the hikers' register, proudly listing our destination as the Susquehanna River, 1,000 miles to the north. Tears welled up in my husband's eyes as his life-long dream came to reality.

The pain for the gain

The euphoria quickly wore off. Most of the Appalachian Trail is uphill. I suppose there were downhill sections, but I can't remember any! We trudged along each day from dawn until dusk. At the lean-to's, where we spent each night, we collapsed into our sleeping bags, sometimes too exhausted to make supper. Through several snowfalls we plodded along with icy feet. We thought, "How could things get worse?"

Then the spring rains came. Our clothes, socks, and shoes stayed soaked for days on end as we slogged northward to our goal. Each day would begin by crawling out of damp sleeping bags and pulling on cold soaked clothes which had not dried out one bit overnight.

And our backs ached under the burden of our heavy packs. All we looked forward to was our next hourly rest stop. We began expanding these planned 10-minute stops to 30, 40 minutes... eventually to an hour. We dreaded heaving those heavy packs on our backs again. We soon lost all interest in taking the side trails to the many panoramic views along the Appalachian Mountain Range. Yet we plodded on for some strange reason.

I remember one time during this period when my husband, who was leaning forward under his towering load, asked, "Why in the world are we doing this?" I too was bent over looking at the path beneath me. I cynically replied through clenched teeth, "Why dear, it's to see the scenery!"

The secret discovered

Then we learned the secret of joyful backpacking: The lighter the load, the greater the joy. How ironic. The very things we had packed to make our journey comfortable had become the burdens which drained our joy away. I remember the crisp evening when the whole thing caved in on us. We began seeing all the possessions we were toting as enemies -- not friends -- of our comfort. That very evening, we spread out every single item in our packs and decided which were truly essential in light of their weight.

The results were shocking. All at once my little radio didn't seem necessary any more. Sure, it was handy, but hearing the reports didn't change anything -- it still rained the next day just the same. Out went the radio. My lounging moccasins, which had seemed so important when I packed them several weeks before, went in the luxuries pile along with the radio. My husband's fancy little Swiss knife with a dozen blades and gadgets to do just about anything you could imagine -- well, you can guess where that went. My small make-up kit that I had included to maintain my self-dignity in the woods -- well, I kept that. Some things are clearly necessities!

We had quite a bonfire that night. Our luxuries -- formerly necessities -- went up in smoke. The items which wouldn't burn were packed in a special place to give away later. (There were several Boy Scouts who eagerly accepted our gifts, never recognizing they then had to carry them out!) A few days later, we walked out to a post office and sent home a whole bag of nonessentials.

What a difference! We could now swing our packs onto our shoulders from a standing position instead of sliding into our burdens sitting down then staggering to our feet. No longer were we bent over under enormous loads. We begin keeping a list of the new birds we were seeing -- for the first time. At almost every side trail, we would quickly scamper down to drink in the delicious views of the Appalachian valleys below.

Cutting our weight became a regular diversion for us. We carefully compared the weight of every food item we purchased each week. We began discarding all the paper wrappings, boxes, and unnecessary portions of food products. We got rid of our little stove and began cooking on an open fire. We even burned the day's section of our guidebook each night to save the weight of two or three pages!

The more we did without, the more we realized we could do without. When we crossed the Susquehanna River three months later, I was carrying only 12 pounds, and Keith carried an 18 pound pack. We had discovered the joy of backpacking -- traveling light. While the Appalachian Trail experience provided a vast treasury of memories and gave our marriage a special common bond, it also taught us a lesson about possessions.

Settling down

Then we settled down. My husband got an assignment working with our denominational headquarters, and within a month of completing our trek on the Appalachian Trail we had moved to Indiana. We rented a house, retired our packs to the attic, and began settling into a new routine.

The needs of a normal life were far more sophisticated than trail life. Take clothing for instance. On the trail, I had reduced my needs to one change of outfits. Now, as a secretary in an academic community, it seemed I needed seven or maybe even ten outfits as a minimum requirement. Soon my closet began overflowing, and extra outfits had to be stored in the hall closet. We kept the hand-me-down furniture for the family room when we bought new living room furniture. Then, of course, there was the kitchen to outfit with a mixer, toaster oven, dishwasher, blender, food processor, everyday dishes, and special china. All of these seemed like "basic essentials." And, after ten years, we got an electric garage door opener it seemed so essential!

We eventually and bought a house, a bit bigger than the one we had rented -- after all, we had a child to care for now. Later, we moved to Indianapolis and built our own house -- larger still, since "we have two teens and my mother-in-law with us now.

Little by little, we accumulated the ingredients of a comfortable life. Sure, we both work hard and take care of our things, but was this really what God wanted for me? Would I ever be done fixing up my house? Was I really happier than ever before? Several Christian speakers addressed the issue of materialism. I cringed. For awhile, at least.

What finally hit me was God's Word itself. Jesus had simply addressed the issue with, "Do not pile up treasures on earth." I had read the verse before, but I'd always been pretty clever in interpreting it to fit my own life-style. I twisted it to mean, "Do not pile up a big pile of treasures on earth," satisfied that my pile was smaller than some of my friend's pile. Or I had read it, "As you pile up treasures on earth, do not become attached to them," priding myself in holding things lightly, having committed them all to the Lord. But the Word kept coming back in the simplicity of a clear command: "Do not pile up treasures on earth."

One of the ways I have always been able to tell God is speaking to me is that I keep seeing or hearing a truth everywhere. Here it was in a book I had borrowed. Now again it jumped out from a message by a visiting speaker. Then it surfaced in a magazine article. But most of all, verses kept popping out of the scripture: "If we have food and clothing, let us be content" (1 Timothy 6:8). "Contentment also includes my garage door opener, doesn't it, Lord?" "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed" (Luke 12:15). "Who, me, Lord? Greedy?" "Put to death...sexual immorality, impurity, lust, even desires, and greed, which is idolatry." "Lord, why put an innocent thing like greed in with those really serious sins?"

God's Word kept hammering away at me.

Then the truth came back to me again. The Lord took me back to my Appalachian Trail experience. He seemed to say, "The truth is the same -- the greatest joy comes to those who travel light." A light went on in my head. I kept falling into the same trap again. I was assuming that all these things would produce a more comfortable trip -- yet they were loading me down and draining the joy of traveling through this earth. Even when we had accumulated a houseful of nice things, they didn't seem to satisfy -- we still "needed" more.

Now the real work began. What were really necessities? What things could we sensibly get rid of? What things were legitimate aids in our ministry to others? How much should we subject our children to? What should we keep until the kids are gone? What do we need to care for my mother-in-law. What is an investment and what is an expense? How far should we go?

None of these answers come easily. We continue to struggle with most of them, sometimes every day. But it's the painful struggle that gives me the peace afterwards. I know that I'm not being led by hollow, simplistic answers that won't last. I have a God-given conviction that brings continuing joy. Yet I still struggle with how far to go.

"Doing without" has become a part time hobby for my family. I don't mean to say that we are poor, we're not -- we're rich by God's standards. And we don't do without because we somehow get a gruesome kick out of self-denial itself. It is the giving that produces the kick, not the denial. When my family can go without new car knowing that some hungry kids are staying alive instead, that brings joy. And I can forego a new outfit when I know that the proceeds are going to support a missionary to Asia. My family happily eats lots of rice, knowing that it releases more money to give away to others in need. I finally gave my piano away, considering I seldom play it. I don't mean to say that I've conquered materialism. I struggle with these temptations almost every day. I'm still rich. But at least we're headed in the right direction.

Have you been thinking about this subject recently? Has the Lord been dealing with you, too? Is it an issue that keeps popping up here and there? Are you too burdened down by a bunch of stuff which merely makes the journey more laborious? If so, why not start unpacking it and giving it away. Who knows, maybe you'll enjoy the trip much more with a lighter pack!


 From: Money, Sex, and Spiritual Power by Keith Drury
(c) 1992 Wesley Press
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