Would You Throw It Away? Our Worth in a Disposable Culture

There’s an ancient story where a Roman solider visits a desert monk named Abba Mius (‘abba’ here means ‘father’), and the solider asks the old man whether it’s really true that Gød would accept someone who’s far gone down a bad path if only they turn and reorient their life to Gød. Abba Mius replies, ‘Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?‘ ‘No,’ the soldier answers, ‘I mend it and use it again.’ ‘If you are so careful about your cloak,’ the abba replies, ‘will not God be equally careful about God’s creature?’

As I meditate on this story, I’m struck on the one hand by the simple, beautiful power of it, which is why I love these wisdom sayings handed down from the desert fathers and mothers. Yet I’m also struck by how far the point of Abba Mius’ illustration (Point A) is from our lived context—and surely that has to affect how able we are to arrive at Abba Mius’ point about Gød (Point B). As long as we layer our landfills with everything replaceable, how well can we really hear what Abba Mius is saying to us about the irreplaceability of things?

The gist is certainly obvious to our intellect. Admittedly, I’ve had the benefit of experiencing the feeling of being a treasured creature, not as easily discarded as an overworn garment. If we harbor the solider’s question at all, though—and I think most of us do—we need an illustration to help us from A to B. Whatever our theology, internally we ask, ‘Am I really OK enough?’ ‘Haven’t I finally screwed it all up beyond repair?’ ‘Hasn’t Gød given up on me?’ ‘Would Gød want anything to do with me now?’ But were we really to answer Abba Mius’ question today (‘If your jacket were torn, would you throw it away?), we’d say, ‘Yes.’ Or else, ‘Not necessarily—I might see if goodwill would take it, maybe use for painting the shed.’ When damaged things, so easily replaced, find so little value in our eyes today, can we help but see our own damage as destroying our value? Our imagination of goods bends in such a way to tell us, sure, Gød might not discard us, but we’ll always belong at the bottom of the drawer for dirty jobs and laundry days. We feel accepted—but only just. We don’t feel loved.

Yet I don’t think Abba Mius completely beyond us. We just need help with the premise and the willingness to buy into it: what I’ve loved to learn therapeutically as the ‘what if‘ game (as in, what if all the good stuff is true). Imagine you just drove a fully loaded Tesla Model S brand-new off the lot, not a cent off the sticker. You park at the grocery store on the way home for some celebratory wine, and when you walk to your car, you see a scratch across the length of the door from someone’s errant cart. Are you going to sell it for parts? Bummed and a little distracted, you drive toward home, but you fail to pay attention to the tail lights ahead of you—you put a nice big dent in your pristine all-electric dream. Do you call the scrap yard yet? How much punishment would it need to take? You just sunk 70 grand in it. Whatever happens to the body of that beast, you’re going to get it cleaned up, repaired, repainted. Whatever happens to its parts, you’re going to get it fixed. Because there’s something there to fix. When you do, you’re going to be about as joyful as you were when you drove it off the lot.

Not into Teslas? How about a Maserati? Your dream lake house? A vintage Elkhart Conn 8D French horn? Abba Mius was a man who didn’t own more than a cloak (if that), speaking to a man who didn’t necessarily have a legal right to much more than his cloak. His illustration took something everyday, ready-to-hand, to say how much more is that true for Gød. But you are more than a garment to Gød that can be torn and mended. You are more than a high-priced car that’s dented and restored. You are even more than a child who leaves and comes home. You are the beloved, intended, creative work of Gød’s eye. If you could imagine a thing that would need to be utterly destroyed before you could give up on its repair, to become essentially no longer what it is, you are worth still more than that. As long as you are even conscious to ask, ‘Would Gød want anything to do with me now?’ you have not been destroyed. Be mended. For in being restored, you will be made more you than ever you could have been before, because Gød is not merely economical—Gød is extravagant.

Are you willing to believe this might be true?

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