From the time we are very young, we start wrestling with the idea of ownership. Toddlers start grabbing things in the toy isle and proclaiming them ‘Mine!’ Siblings squabble over sharing the specific gifts designated for them. Teens turn their rooms into fortresses of solitude and demand permission be granted before access is given.
It starts the day we are born. We are looking to discover our place in this world. We are looking to take ownership of our lives.
This process begins with the most elementary kind of ownership: possessions. Toys. Clothes. Belongings. We seek possessions like a pirate searching for treasure. The order of the day is ‘dibs’ – with little thought allotted for who made the object or who paid for it. It is ours when it is declared ours.
And more is never enough. We need piles and then hills and then mountains of stuff. The more we have, the more it says about who we are.
If we aren’t careful, we never mature out of this childish approach to ownership. We step over people, toss money around, and make haughty declarations. We are like spoiled children hyped up on sugar, consuming all that we can reach like a restless Hungry Hippo.
The first lie we believe about ownership is that more will satisfy us. The second lie we believe is that what we have already amassed defines us. Some never grow out of this lie, believing it until the day they die.
The result of both of these lies is a life of meaningless hoarding. We collect and buy and gather. We vacuum power and money and prestige into ourselves, desperately trying to fill the hole within.
The most difficult aspect of mature ownership is realizing which things are not ours to hold on to. A wise owner is not constantly fighting for what does not belong to him; he accepts with humility and freedom what is his.
Ownership is not about collecting at all costs. It is about discerning what truly belongs to us, holding onto that which matters, and letting go of all the rest.
An owner assesses the value of what he might possess. He is appreciative of the cost and recognizes what price he must pay for it and who it is that bestows ownership to him. For there is nothing we are the creators of. True owners do not have time to chase down every fancy because they realize the cost of what they do have and the effort it takes to keep it in decent shape.
The natural progression of ownership is stewardship. The journey that begins with amassing things ends with understanding who we are, being intentional about our choices, and living toward a vision that aligns with the deepest parts of our soul.
The path toward ownership that begins in infancy ends in the acceptance of one’s identity. The obsession with collecting toys is a shadow of the things we are truly meant to own – our choices, our character, and the vision for our lives.
This is ownership infused with meaning. The only kind of possessing that truly satisfies. And the natural overflow of this kind of ownership is stewardship.
Discovering who we are is only the first of an epic two-part story. The sequel is stewardship – how are we going to apply who we are to a world of brokenness and need. Children practice this when they decide to share toys or help someone who is sad. They are leaning in the direction of stewardship, hinting at what they might become.
The question of ownership follows us around. All of us. Who are we? What is our responsibility? What talents, skills, passions, possessions have been endowed to us? And what are we to do with them?