Some of my favorite TV shows are the "Hoarder" shows – "Hoarders - Buried Alive," "Extreme Hoarders," and "Animal Hoarders." I'm not completely sure why I like them so much, but I know it's not just the draw of watching something really gross. I also like hearing the stories of how these people got to the place where things were so bad that they would be approached by a TV show to air it for all of America to see. In other words, I want to know what the heck they were thinking when they started just throwing dirty toilet paper on the floor and leaving it there.
These shows are, as they say, like a train wreck; I can't look away, even though what I see on the screen is shocking, gross, sickening, nasty, and absolutely disgusting. But as I sit there taking in the drama of all that's showing on my TV screen, I'm almost always reminded of some pretty amazing truths. These shows actually prove true some biblical principles that are counter-intuitive. After all, God's principles, it seems to me, are almost always counter-intuitive; they are completely opposite of what makes sense to my human mind. (To clarify, and to be completely honest, I'm not watching these shows because I want to be reminded of the biblical truths; I'm watching because I love shows with at least some shock value.)
According to Dictionary.com, a hoard is "a supply or accumulation that is hidden or carefully guarded for preservation, future use, etc." A hoarder, then, is someone who obtains, accumulates, and hides stuff, even stuff that is completely invaluable.
So here are some of the truths these TV shows have made very clear to me:
Biblical Principle #1 – God created us with a "hole" that only He can fill. Hoarders speak of having an insatiable desire to get more and more stuff, but no matter how much they obtain, it's never enough. They have to continue their search for the one thing that will finally be "it," and will finally allow them to rest and be free of their self-described insane behavior. G. K. Chesterton said, "There are two ways to get enough: One is to accumulate more and more, the other is to desire less." No matter how much stuff a hoarder obtains, they will always make room for more. And when there's room for more, there's room for wanting more.
Biblical Principle #2 – When you've been hurt by people, the path to healing involves opening yourself up to... guess what?... PEOPLE! A recurring theme among hoarders is that their hoard creates distance between themselves and their friends and family members. In most cases, that's exactly what's intended. Even when given an ultimatum, such as "Either you clean this place up, or I'll never bring your grandchildren to see you again," the hoarder is unable or unwilling to let go of their stuff in spite of the love they have for their grandchildren. All too often, a person's hoarding begins as a result of a major loss in their life. One person on the show had suffered the loss of an infant. Another's parents had died unexpectedly. Another person was traumatized as a young child when all of her belongings were thrown away by an insensitive parent. Hoarding is a picture of what happens when someone is faced with a
trauma or loss and instead of opening themselves up to God and others for healing and help, they close off themselves and their environment and do everything they can to keep people out. It's safer and easier to live with and be surrounded by things, rather than people. Things can't hurt us, disappoint us, abandon us, but people can and often will.
Biblical Principle #3 – Burying or hiding our sin, shortcomings, and addictions helps them grow. This principle goes hand-in-hand with #2. Healing requires that we bring our heart's "stuff" to the light. The origin of the word "hoard" is from the Old English word "hode," which means "hide." Hoarders do everything they can to keep their hoarding problem a secret, and I suppose there are different reasons for this. They may think "if they really knew me, they wouldn't love/like me," or maybe they're afraid some of their stuff will be taken away. There's no doubt that these people have experienced judgment and disdain by those who do find out about their secret. So it makes perfect sense that if they hide their secret
and just try to fix it themselves, they'll have a better chance of getting out of their mess unscathed, unjudged, unhurt. God told us to confess our sins to one another, because He knew we would need a way to break free of what we have
hidden in the dark. Once the truth is brought to light, the power of shame is broken. We are free to see things for what they really are and to take the steps we need to take to be healed. As Dr. Phil says, "You can't change what you don't acknowledge."
Biblical Principle #4 – Risk is necessary. When we bury our money, gifts, talents, time or stuff and keep it all to ourselves, it becomes completely useless. Another recurring theme of hoarders is that they acquire and keep things because "someone might need this someday." In reality, the fact that they have it and hoard it prevents it from being useful. In one episode I watched, family members questioned a hoarder about why she had several sets of children's pajamas still in the box. The hoarder said she bought them because she thought her granddaughter would like them. The granddaughter had long since outgrown that size, so what would have been a nice, useful gift was completely wasted.
Biblical Principle #5 – True freedom requires surrender. One of the Hoarder episodes I watched was about a woman who had been married to a very controlling and abusive man. Her husband dictated everything, including what she could buy, what she could keep, what had to be thrown away. When she finally divorced him, she thought she was truly free. She became addicted to watching shopping channels and would buy anything and everything she wanted, and of course would keep all of it. She shopped herself into financial ruin and her house was so hoarded that she was completely confined within it. She didn't have a place to sleep, cook, eat, wash, or even use the restroom. She had to move in with her son and his wife, and started hoarding their home as well. When they insisted she move out, she finally sought help for her problem. She wasn't free at all. She was enslaved to her habit and her hoard.
Biblical Principle #6 – Sin, when buried, becomes bigger and bigger, and nastier and nastier. On many of these shows, the hoarder is being forced out of their home because it has become unsafe for human habitation. Their homes are often filled with mold, wood rot, feces, urine, insects, or vermin of all kinds. Their entire house, as well as their once-nice belongings, have to be destroyed because there's no way to rid it of the smell, or the mold, the cockroaches and their eggs, the rats, the dead cats (yeah!) to make it useful again. The hoard almost always hides extreme filth underneath it all.
Biblical Principle #7 – God wants to be our Source. It makes sense to us humans that stockpiling is a good thing. I used to wonder why God told the Israelites to gather only enough manna for one day, and why everything that was saved for the next day would spoil. I know now that it was God's way of keeping the Israelites dependent upon Him for their very existence. And actually, I don't know that He wanted them to be dependent on Him as much as he wanted them to just trust Him and to stop trying to do things their own way and in their own strength. I'm not suggesting that we not plan ahead or stockpile food and water for emergencies. I'm only saying that, just like hoarders often come to the realization that their way doesn't work, I've come to realize that God's ways are definitely higher, and very different, than mine.
What's the one thing that God credits to us as righteousness? Faith. We could substitute the word Trust for Faith. Whether you're a hoarder or a minimalist, it all comes down to trusting God to take care of us, protect us, and provide for us. We have to be willing to let it go. Hmmm... That sounds like a good song title!
Author: Pam Luper