Life Notes: We All Have a Coat to Give
by David Wheeler, Ph.D.

It was a fairly cold night in Louisville, Kentucky, where we were living about 14 years ago. I remember driving home that night and seeing a familiar man walking down the road in a fairly isolated part of town. I suspected that he suffered from mental illness based on observing him in a restaurant some days prior to that evening. Well, I was a bit more risky at that point in my life, so I stopped to offer him a ride. He refused the ride and we talked for a few short minutes. He said that it was cold and if I had an extra coat, that would be a way to help him.

I thought about the coat I was wearing; it was a gift from my parents a Christmas or two ago. I hated to give up something with sentimental value (and I really did like that coat). I asked where he lived and found it was a shelter near my home. So I bought him a coat at a used clothing store the next day, but when I got to the shelter, I had to leave it with someone else. I don’t know if he ever got that coat, but I know he did not get my coat that cold night. That is one of my regrets.

When the people of Jesus’ day asked John the Baptist what they should do, he replied, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11). I have thought lately about what life might be like if we were to all live like that. He didn’t say, give your only coat away and do without. He just said to give our extra.

A friend of mine was visiting a couple of years ago and I complimented his nice leather jacket. He said, “Try it on.” I did so and he told me to keep it. Of course I laughed and told him I was not going to keep his jacket. But he insisted, saying that he had been given another black leather jacket as a gift and he wanted me to keep that one. Eventually, I agreed.

I have enjoyed that jacket and have often thought about my friend’s generosity and how he held on to his possessions loosely. I don’t know if I had another coat that cold night that I spoke to the stranger, but I know I was in a warm car and he wasn’t. I wish I had given him that coat; I bet I would have felt great. I think there are some significant benefits to living like that…to holding on to things loosely. If we were to live like that, I believe it might decrease envy, strife, worry, clutter, selfishness, and discontent. It would probably increase our time (less time spent acquiring, managing, maintaining, storing, moving, insuring).

Most of all, I bet it would increase peace of mind. I realize this is akin to heresy in our modern Western culture, where the tendency is to acquire the latest, fastest, most powerful model of whatever technology exists. But I can’t help but wonder, what would life be like if we held on to possessions so loosely. I wonder.

The Life Notes articles are written by staff of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home and are published in The Ruston Daily Leader.

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