It was two years ago that we last visited our families here in the Pacific Northwest in the winter months. I was very pregnant last December so we could not do our usual travel north for the Christmas holiday. After that last trip two years ago, I put three of my favorite wool sweaters into a plastic shopping bag in my closet. They needed to be dry-cleaned, and that was where they ended up. We didn’t necessarily have a dry-cleaning budget (and I no longer had a dry-cleaning life), so the bag sat in the closet forgotten. It is possible that I would have missed the contents at some point last year (there can be a sweater day in L.A.), but I was at the end of pregnancy during the colder months and those nice, fine gauge fitted merino wool sweaters were entirely out of the question.
A few days before our trip, I asked Doug to please take my sweaters in to the dry-cleaners across the street from Fuller. He had a coat that needed cleaning as well, and he took our items in so we could have them ready to take with us. He picked the dry-cleaning up the day that we left, and I literally ripped my sweaters out of their plastic sheaths and shoved them into my suitcase without even looking at them. Except for one of them, the charcoal gray crewneck, which I quickly threw on over my t-shirt as we headed out the door for the airport.
It was after we landed in Spokane, when I took Mercy into the airport bathroom there, that I noticed that my beautiful sweater was full of little holes running down both arms of the sweater. And what I had thought was a giant snot marking on my shoulder (Aaron was congested and had cried a fair amount at the beginning of our flight) was really my white t-shirt showing through another gigantic hole on my shoulder. I was devastated. It was then that I remembered pulling out another sweater favorite from that plastic bag in the closet and, seeing a series of holes around the neckline, put it back in thinking, “wow, I don’t remember that sweater falling apart so quickly…”
Apparently, storing fine wool sweaters in a plastic bag in your closet for two years is not a good idea.
This morning I went to get dressed for the family graveside service for my Grandma. I put on my dressy black turtleneck sweater knowing that it would help me stay warm in the cold and the rain. I tried for the rest of the day to ignore the string of holes on either arm.
I am sad about my sweaters. I am annoyed that I did something so stupid. I am frustrated that I am here now, in freezing weather, with tattered clothes.
I could not help but think of the verses in Matthew’s gospel that warn us against storing things up for ourselves here on earth. I usually think about those verses in terms of hoarding, or seeking to create a sense of security by accumulating stuff. But, as I look down at my Swiss cheese sweater, I realize that it is as much about letting things sit idle. I wasn’t amassing some great wealth of sweaters; I simply failed to do the one thing that would preserve them: wear them.
I preached a sermon on treasure this past year and I made this exact point: moths cannot eat what is in use. Whether it is money shored up in investments and savings or talents stuffed away, waiting for the right time or opportunity, there is something about taking what God gives to us and putting it out of circulation; setting it aside; ignoring it; forgetting to use it. There is something about that that Jesus is speaking to when he gives us an alternative: “but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
I feel a bit haunted by this right now. There was no self-seeking or malice in my decision to stash a bunch of sweaters in a closet. Just lack of money, pregnancy, and some plain old ignorance. I think that Jesus’ listeners probably had any number of good reasons for doing what they were doing too. Don’t we always?