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Four Words to Avoid

posted by xscot mcknight

The four words to avoid will not be a list of the four worst words or four potty-mouth expressions. Instead, I want to focus on four words that Kris and I use, that you might use, that someone at your workplace might use. These four words shape behaviors, they enable us not to have to make a decision, and they clog places in our homes.
The four words are: “Might need it someday!” Go ahead, repeat it to yourself aloud: “Might need it someday.” With or without the exclamation; it doesn’t matter.
Do you use these words to explain non-decision or hope or procrastination?
For instance, Kris got it in her head the other day that, since we had a fresh coating of paint in the upstairs bedrooms, perhaps it was time to replace the sheets on Luke’s old bed. She found a wonderful new color that I really like. Which meant taking off the old sheets and putting them in a linen closet that had, you guessed it, about 15 old sheets that we might … go ahead and say it with me … “Might need it someday” sheets and pillow cases.
So, I checked out my storage room in the basement to see what I might have hanging around. There it was: a big box of baseballs. And I don’t mean a shoebox; I mean a box much bigger. I was a coach for years; I ran a baseball camp for 12 summers; and Luke played some minor league baseball and always managed to come home with some baseballs. So, I checked the box. Lots of baseballs. “Might need them someday,” I know I had said a few times as to why I keep hold of baseballs that are grass-stained so much they’ve turned golden brown. Now I don’t need these; Luke doesn’t need these. Maybe, I say to myself, “I’ll need them someday when (if ever) we have grandkids.” Well, that’s a number of years away so far as I can calculate. By the time grandkids come here, my shoulder will be so weak I’ll not be able to pitch or play catch and those baseballs might already have turned into dust — to use a bit of a famous line in the Bible.
Then we were cleaning something out and I noticed another closet with a bundle, and I mean a bundle, of baby blankets … which we just might need someday. Of course, they might be yellowed and smelly by that time, but we might need them someday.
What about books? In a modest assessment I’ve got plenty. Six feet of books on Romans. One can’t possibly read that many in the work I do on Romans. “Someday,” I say to myself, “I just might need Sanday and Headlam” even though I know full well that everything those two ancients said that was good has been assumed and reused in all good commentaries — and I’ve got most of them.
Speaking of books. I used to read about 20 baseball books a year. Loved them. Now I look up at a three shelves of books about baseball. I can’t imagine needing them someday, and Luke says he doesn’t want them. A friend of mine was writing a novel with some baseball stuff in it, so I sent her 10 books or so. I haven’t missed them.
One thing I’m glad of. I’m glad all of us don’t decide to get rid of everything we might need but, in fact, won’t need on the same day.
Some people, I’m told, think they might need leisure suits someday. Buddy, forgetaboutit.



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Greg Laughery

posted August 28, 2007 at 1:22 am


Wonderful. Resonates deeply. Now what? I find when I actually do get rid of some stuff, I never notice that it’s gone.



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Jennifer

posted August 28, 2007 at 1:34 am


One of the blessings of living in a small space is that there is just no room to keep stuff you dont need. My physical living space disciples me away from my tendency to want too much stuff. Of course, the downside is that its hard to be hospitable to people when there is only enough room for us.



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Michael

posted August 28, 2007 at 1:41 am


As I sit amidst the clutter of what I might need “some day” I chuckle with appreciation for your discovering usefulness for the unused. Thanks for you simple brilliance.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 28, 2007 at 4:13 am


I plead guilty to this in some large measure. Books, alot of things. Well, some of the extras I have, I just can’t imagine anyone wanting them, or really benfitting that much from them.
But there are scads of things here, alot of little things that we’ll never use.



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Helen

posted August 28, 2007 at 6:12 am


Scot, I love this – it’s fun to read but also convicting since you expose an excuse we use for holding onto things we don’t really need. Things other people would actually use and might even need; whereas we don’t – they are just taking up space.
I don’t think Jesus would have been very impressed with this excuse. He didn’t have a home, so, unless he pulled a cart everywhere with him which isn’t mentioned in the Bible, he must have had very few possessions. And when a rich man asked him what he could do to gain eternal life, Jesus said “sell everything you have”, seemingly not at all sympathetic to the ‘might need it someday’ excuse.



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sonja

posted August 28, 2007 at 6:35 am


Hmmmm … a whole new and different “pottymouth” lexicon. I love it. I have a friend who lives in a town house and struggles with this tendency. We call her shuffles “townhouse tetrus.” I have more room in my single family home, but more room just equates to more stuff. And I’d like to do without it, because the reality is that someday, like tomorrow, rarely if ever comes.



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Sarah Chia

posted August 28, 2007 at 6:39 am


Unfortunately, things can go the other way, too. I went through an unsentimental stage a while back and got rid of everything I didn’t need or hadn’t used in a year (you know…how those organizing books tell you to). Most of the stuff I’ve never missed, but sometimes I still wish I had others.



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Diane

posted August 28, 2007 at 6:55 am


Good stuff. I’m in the process of making some welcome changes in my life and noticed that row of “second tier” cookbooks in the laundry room … Might need them some day … I’ve often thought there’s an irony that while we in this culture drown and choke in stuff, other people don’t have the basics … the other irony: you kept “it” for years because you might need it some day and when that day comes you can’t find it under all the junk … I remember the day it was raining before school started, and I couldn’t find the kids’ raincoats under the masses of jackets hanging on pegs in the laundry room. And then I couldn’t find the raincoats in the front hall closet. The kids had left them at school and they were probably in the lost and found bin, and I didn’t even know they were missing. I thought, there is definitely something wrong with how we live. The good impulses of “waste not, want not,” save the earth and frugality (which I think underlie our hanging on) have been subverted by too much acquisition. I shudder over the reports of people who suffocate when the stacks of newspapers that take up every inch of their apartments fall on them … “You might need those newspapers some day. What if there’s a … a … nuclear holocaust and you have to build a fire?” Yes, we need to let go. Less truly is more. And you know what … if you give something up and then need it … there’s always e-Bay,



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Mason

posted August 28, 2007 at 7:49 am


I’ve been using bookmooch.com to unload books. I started with books I knew I’d never read again, and have moved to books that I may read again, but can always get from the library or even back from Bokmooch. It’s free to use. So free, in fact, that the only money involved is postage. You can even donate your points to a few charities: http://bookmooch.com/charity
Its true: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” The more space we have, the more we want to fill it. The challenge, I guess, is to only have the space you need, and make sure you’re filling it with the “right” things.



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Nathanael

posted August 28, 2007 at 7:50 am


When Michelle and I were engaged to be married, I moved into our apartment first. As she was helping me pack up my stuff to move, she would say, “Don’t ask the question, ‘Could I use this someday?’ ask the question, ‘Will I ever use this?’” Wise woman, that Michelle. So we donated what we could and threw out the rest.



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RJS

posted August 28, 2007 at 7:56 am


I am something of a pack rat in this way – and push myself sometimes (but not often enough) to get rid of things like old baby blankets, toys, worn out sheets, etc. Seldom if ever miss it.
But books – I don’t think I’ve ever gotten rid of a book and not regretted it (except multiple copies). For reasons of economy (like avoiding bankruptcy) I’ve been borrowing many of the books mentioned here from the library – but there is always a sense of loss when the book is returned and I don’t have it on hand to consult.



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cas

posted August 28, 2007 at 8:58 am


There’s a cure for this Scot. It’s moving a lot, say 5 times in 5 years. You get so tired of lugging stuff that stuff filters out. I think I’d rather have the clutter, though. Sounds like time for a yard sale at the McKnight house. If you advertise the sale of books here, you might just sell the sheets and baseballs.



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Jason Dye

posted August 28, 2007 at 9:00 am


the packrat within me struggles an internal war. he does not do what he knows what is good, yet he does what he does not want to do. o, who will save me from the wretched mess that is my storage space?



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Pat

posted August 28, 2007 at 9:20 am


Interesting stuff! We all struggle with this. I think Kari, your niece, is great! Just use Craig’s List and get rid of anything!



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Georges Boujakly

posted August 28, 2007 at 9:22 am


Guilty! I have bought several copies of the same books in case I might need it someday. Here is how I thought. I see a book I might need someday in the bookstore. I convince myself I really need it and buy it. I bring it home proudly and put it on the shelf of the books I might need to read someday. Somehow I seem to manage to buy other books to read before I actually need to read the ones I had bought because I thought I might need someday. Then I discover I already bought two copies of the same book and remember thinking the same thing I thought when I bought the first copy. So I have learned to interpret this sickness, or sin (Greed is one of the big 7, isn’t it) which is not unto death, theologically: Maybe the Lord wants me to give the double, triple copies to friends who actually need and will use them.
All things work together for good. Do I hear an Amen? (I wished I had emoticons!



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Kate Johnson

posted August 28, 2007 at 9:47 am


We are getting ready to move (or that is our prayer) and I have been looking around and saying, do I want to move this? Is it something I have used in the 7 years I have lived here???? Unfortunately, most of the answers are no, but I STILL and struggling with getting rid of things!!! Save me!! And the moving alot doesn’t help much, when you finally settle down. We moved 6 times in the year following Hurricane Andrew, and didn’t have much anyway. Then when my stuff was in storage after the last move, a flood came and reduced what we had newly accumulated. (But much of the loss was my beloved books). Now that we have been here for so long, I find the pile has risen. But for me, getting rid also reminds me of what I lost between Andrew and the flood, so…. it is stressful either way. Moving or losing!



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Bob

posted August 28, 2007 at 11:48 am


All this emphasis on books (and I’m guilty too) reminds me of two things. First, on the day John F. Kennedy Jr. announced his mother’s death to the reporters waiting outside her building, he said she was “surrounded by family and the books she loved so much.” It seems to be a common malady, to love the written word — maybe this thread should discuss why? The second thing I remember is what my Dad told me when I said I “loved” a certain object, “You mean you like it. You can’t love anything that can’t love you back.” And that’s the reason God so LOVED the world…He saw the possibility of being loved back, even awkwardly, even imperfectly.



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Anonymous

posted August 28, 2007 at 12:58 pm


The Margins » The simple life

[...] UPDATE: After posting this, I meandered over to Scot McKnight’s blog for my daily visit and found his excellent post addressing a similar theme: “might need it someday…” [...]



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Charlie

posted August 28, 2007 at 3:05 pm


Scott,
From a fellow (albeit downstate) CUBS fan, can you give us your top 10 baseball reads? At least I’d be interested! (If you just want to email them, that would be fine.)
One of my favorites was “I had a Hammer” — the story of Hank Aaron’s pursuit of the home run title, THAT HE STILL HOLDS!



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Diane

posted August 28, 2007 at 3:09 pm


Erika,
I enjoyed your blog and Jordon’s. It’s always encouraging to see people trying to live a simpler way. I’ve found a supportive group is important as, even in small ways, simplifying can stupefy the larger society. I remember when our family went to one car (we’re back to two) people around us just couldn’t comprehend it as a choice. We got the questions from in-laws: do you need …(whisper) financial help? And from others, the response, uh-huh, yeah, simplifying, right, wink, wink, we’ve all had our credit cards maxed out and had to cut back, but really, going down to one car … Well, we had no credit card debt whatsoever (shocking I know) and really had made a choice … but for all that I’m exploring the other form of not being simple, namely, overwork … I’m off from work this week, probably with too much time to surf the Web … off because my doctor decided I was exhausted and needed to rest … thank goodness for caring doctors. Well, I am rethinking my life. Thinking how we clutch to our jobs for identity and how we have a self beyond the job title … I hope …



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Peggy

posted August 28, 2007 at 3:39 pm


Scot and all…LOL 8)
Everything that I get rid of (give away, if possible) is a gift to my husband :)
When we left So. Cal. for our “journey into a far country I will show you” 11 years ago, this was the rule: if we can’t replace it because of sentimental value or because it is no longer available and we need something like it or because we need it now–we keep it. Everything else went in the garage sale or to family or to the college’s “Heirloom Shoppe” which benefited the students.
I have decided that everything that I hold onto that someone else could be using now is being possessive with God’s resources…so we try to pass the wealth around. If the day comes when we will need it, someone will give it back somehow.
Diane–I can’t tell you how many “baby” things I gave away after our first, never expecting there to be a second. Then gave it all way for the second, never expecting a third. What a hoot! The crib and changing table and diaper pail all survived, but it was pretty funny 8)
The greatest thing was that the baby stuff got better each time…and it was a blessing to be able to share all those things with others.
Books…I’m terrible, especially since all my most important and favorite books I have at least two copies of (intentionally, though, Georges ;) )–one to read and one to lend! Foundational books I have five copies of, for use in leadership training, etc. Some come back, some don’t…



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Peggy

posted August 28, 2007 at 3:42 pm


…but living simply is very important…we only have one car, too. I’m having a hard time helping my boys learn the difference between “need” and “want” in this “stuff” oriented culture…but I will persevere :)



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Diane

posted August 28, 2007 at 4:28 pm


Peggy,
My goodness! One car! Seriously, how have you found it?
As for babies, I found, like so many mothers, that I was given so many things when I had babies, especially with the twins. A double stroller, a second crib, clothes … if we passed on the rest of our stuff with the generosity (and heartfelt relief) that we pass on baby things, we’d live in a society of abundance. But unlike babies, so many of us want stuff that is brand new. It sounds as if you didn’t regret giving up things you might need some day … and actually did need.



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Peggy

posted August 28, 2007 at 5:30 pm


My wonderful husband commutes to work on public transportation…he takes his laptop and wireless internet card and is “at work” while he’s in transit ;)
I rarely shop anywhere but the thrift/second-hand stores. Except for my 6’6″ husband (hard to find for him anywhere) and socks and shoes, I can’t justify the expense…I am not a fashion maven.
It is a very freeing thing to let “things” and “fashion” go so that they can come back in new and fresh ways 8)
I don’t even like having more than one of something or even having to have things that are not used often and can be borrowed! My sons would like to each have their own room, but it’s not gonna happen…
The best thing about missionary life–no running water or phone or TV or…whatever–gives one some perspective that is too often missing in our culture. When I came home (and most missionaries, if they will be transparent with you will agree), I was appalled (disgusted?) with the wanton waste and self-centeredness. I’ll not climb up on that soapbox today, but it’s always handy when my boys need it. 8)



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Scot McKnight

posted August 28, 2007 at 7:59 pm


Charlie,
I thought I had done a Top Ten list on baseball books, but evidently not.
Here are my favorites:
Tom Boswell’s books are the best
Robert Creamer’s biographies are exceptional
Diz is a great book.
Whole Different Ball Game tells the story to free agency.
When Only the Ball Was White is my favorite about the negro leagues.
Halberstam’s book about the Cardinals is a good one, too.



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Diane

posted August 29, 2007 at 8:26 am


Peggy,
We could go down to one car because my husband could commute on the coach bus. He liked the 1/2 mile hike to the bus stop for the exercise and he loved being able to read and sleep on the bus. He’s read so much since he started with the bus some years ago. He can whip through those big Victorian novels. He still takes the bus even with the second car because it’s less stressful than driving (and he loves to drive). I always say having one car is libertation not deprivation … but, alas, my daughter will be driving soon and I don’t see us out of the second car woods soon. At least it’s not a third car …



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Tom Grosh IV

posted August 29, 2007 at 8:41 am


Yes. Our family moved last July. We lived for 1 month in my parents house, 1 week at an InterVarsity Regional Staff Conference, and then 4 months with my wife’s parents before moving into our new house. We had our ‘essentials’ and then opened some more ‘essentials’ after moving into our house, but we’ve had a lot of ‘might need it someday’ in the basement. Recently we’ve begun to sort, unpack, and discard w/more focus. AND my minivan is almost full this morning (and not the first load before and after our move we’ve blessed others with our ‘might need it someday’). But some college textbooks were going into the attic because we just can’t get rid of them . . .
Something about books, I have a library w/a number of extra copies of InterVarsity Press books which I pass along to students, faculty, family, and friends in ministry. But since our move, I haven’t had as much opportunity to pass along what I thought I ‘might need someday.’ As I open it up, I see how the IVP catalogs and IVP classics like ‘My Heart Christ’s Home’ have aged. All the more reason to bless the participants in my adult ed class with the old cover booklet w/all the same good text since the ’90s, mentioned by our local assembly’s pastor in last week’s sermon.



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Anonymous

posted August 29, 2007 at 9:53 am


Letting go of stuff « a fresh focus

[...] Letting go of stuff 29 08 2007 My life is pretty simple. I don’t own a lot. For much of my college and seminary life I could fit all of my possessions in my Jeep quite nicely. But as time goes by, it’s amazing how much we do accumulate. I ran across a great reminder today on Scot McKnight’s blog; the post is called, “Four Words To Avoid.” Enjoy getting rid of something today… [...]



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Robin Swieringa

posted August 29, 2007 at 10:49 am


Hi, Scot! For those of us who are really, really, really clutter-challenged, there’s http://www.flylady.com (or .net?)…



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Henriet Schapelhouman

posted August 30, 2007 at 11:23 am


Four to Six:
Replace those words with my husband Fred’s motto:
When in doubt, throw it out.



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