"Can I take this home?" my nephew would often ask when he was little. He would be at my house spending the night, or at his grandma's, and something there would capture his attention. He would play hard with it, REALLY enjoying, except for that little part of him that knew it was eventually going to end, and he would have to leave it. Unless . . .
"Can I take this to my house?" he would plead, longingly. He wouldn't really be able to enjoy it, not fully, unless he knew that he could have it, that it could go with him and be his.
"No, that's just something you will play with here," I would tell him about a ball or a coloring book. My mom told him the same thing about the toy cars she kept at her house, or the small farm set. He would whine a little, some times staging more of a protest than others, but eventually he would submit, letting the hold that little "something" had over him weaken and die.
But I know he didn't enjoy playing with those toys nearly as much as he would have if they had been his own. I could see it in his eyes.
I thought about my nephew recently as I sped down US 40 on the way to see my family. I passed by a huge patch of black-eyed Susans that were growing along the shoulder of the road. One black-eyed Susan is cute. But hundreds of them growing in a patch took my breath away. Their golden color was vivid, and they were dancing in unison there in the breeze.
My first thought was pleasure, my second thought was gratitude.
My third thought was, "I should pull over and pick some so that I can take them home."
It only took a fourth thought to realize the absurdity. Parking along the shoulder would be dangerous; I had a full day ahead of me, and if the flowers even made it home, they would be wilted. Not to mention, it was probably illegal. Those flowers looked "wild," but they were probably owned by the US Department of Transportation. Just like the road I was driving on.
I continued on with no flowers.
Even before I was a mile down the road, I made the connection back to my nephew and his deep desire to take things home. Had I become a grown up version of him, never able to enjoy things unless I possessed them? And more importantly, when was I going to learn that when I put so much value on owning "stuff," that stuff is actually possessing me?
The God who owns me knew I wouldn't be content playing with His stuff and just leaving it. He knew I would want to take it home. So, not taking stuff that is not mine is at the heart of God's command not to steal. Not wanting stuff that is not mine is at the heart of God's command not to covet. Being thankful for the stuff I do have is called "gratitude." Giving away my stuff, even the good stuff, is called "generosity."
Following Jesus along the path from stealing to generosity often means living counter-culturally and disciplining ourselves to get by on less than we normally would. Sometimes, it means sharing the part we were saving for ourselves. For me, it means I don't shop at Target very often.
But as we grow in grace, the journey gradually equips us to say to stuff, "I will not take you from others or want you if you are not mine, rather I be thankful for you and share you with others."
In other words, "You don't own me."