My message today may come as a surprise to you this morning, but my hope is not to confirm your beliefs, rather to encourage you to test your beliefs and square your worldview to truth. The message today is this: you need not fear loss. Consider this timeless gem from Epictetus:
Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel. – Epictetus
While it may seem ironic to gain a fresh perspective from the voice of antiquity, I’ve often taken great comfort in the commonsensical words of our predecessors, both recent and ancient. You never know what might grow out of the planting of a well-preserved seed such as Epictetus’ thought above in the soil of contemporary minds and hearts, but I feel compelled to do so, that we might return to a more balanced and fulfilling way of life.
Our modern-day insistence on the cultivation of personal material wealth forces us to consider all matters, whether related to material progress or not, through the lens of personal ownership. Capitalism has many advantages over alternative economic systems, but it does seem to have forced the commoditization of just about everything.
I prefer to see my time on earth not as a race to gather toys, wealth or fame, but instead as an opportunity to administer that which is drawn to me by virtue of a consistent and deliberately cultivated pattern of radiance. It is clear to me that that which comes under my hand is not mine, regardless of what men’s laws say. My sole responsibility is to see that everything within my sphere of influence is blessed and uplifted through my care and attention, so that when it (or he or she) moves on or is “returned” as Epictetus put it so beautifully, it is increased and not depleted, depreciated or devalued by my handling.
You do not own that which you possess presently, be it a material object or a fellow human being. You cannot take your possessions with you when you leave this sphere of living. We are all contained in something larger, whether you put it in religious terms or not; we are individual components of a universal whole (as is all matter).
If you are consumed with possession for the sake of vain ownership, you will forever be struggling against the tides of change which sweep impartially through all of creation. If, however, you see yourself as a steward of creation, you will no longer waste time worrying about losing that which is presently within your sphere of influence and you will cease fretting about that which has supposedly been “lost” by you.
We are all a part of the remarkable universal creation. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will begin to truly live.