Today I was asked, “What do you hoard?” My first thought was, “Well, nothing.” I don’t think of myself as a hoarder, especially since I live in NYC where no one has spare closets for luxuries such as hoarding.
I started to think about the items I have—I own quite a few books, and dresses, and a sizable collection of DVDs. But none of them could be classified as hoard-sized, and besides, isn’t hoarding more about the attitude attached to the items? Isn’t it more about the fact that a hoarder cherishes those things and returns time and time again to them to remind themselves simply that they’re there?
As I pondered this, I suddenly realized that of course I’m a hoarder, just not in the way I typically think of hoarding. I don’t hoard material things, but I tend to gather up the way people talk about me—good or bad—and store it in my soul where I can go back and consider it. I grow hungry for a compliment or a word of affirmation, and I feel the need to compel someone to flatter me, just so I can add it to the treasure trove of compliments in my heart. Or, on days when I’m sad, I stack up embarrassing things I’ve done or said around me like a fort and sit in the middle, berating myself for being an idiot.
There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on the words of myself or others, and it’s a good thing to be aware of how we are affected and affect others. But like someone who hoards material possessions, the problem lies in my attitude—the fact that I gather these things to me for the purpose of dwelling on them and viewing myself through the lens of their presence. If I am truly building my joy and contentment on what people have said about me or to me, I am going to be sorely disappointed.
It’s easy to remember that last sentence in moments of clarity, and much less easy to remember it when I’m on the high of a compliment or the low of a negative word. But this past weekend I went to a NEEDTOBREATHE concert, and as they played one of their most famous songs, I was reminded of the simple truth in their lyrics:
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water
If I’m going to hoard anything, it’s going to be words of life like these.
~ Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, ND Wilson
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
~ On the Incarnation, Athanasius of Alexandria