This past week, a friend of mine dropped off a carload full of toys her son had outgrown. She wondered if we’d like to look through them. It was perfect timing since the kids were finding it difficult to wait through the last few days before their daddy came home from his many months away. A few bags of new-to-them toys were just the thing to keep them occupied.
It was magical. For an entire day, my five kids hardly spoke to me at all, they were so transfixed with all the new stuff.
Less than a day later, things had changed. The toys had been picked over. There were the toys some of the kids liked and the toys nobody liked and the toys everyone liked and was fighting over. All of these toys were piled into the living room in one big jumble. There was no room to play. The animals from Noah’s ark were buried under a mountain of blocks and cars, the princess castle was missing the princess and two of my children were accusing each other of taking a toy neither of them could find.
All the new stuff, while fun for a moment, began to feel suffocating. We were all relieved when it was time to bag up the toys we were not going to keep. All those bright, shiny things could not keep us content for very long.
It is easy to believe that material things will make us happy. The TV ads tell us so. Our neighbors tell us so. The guy at the bank who tries to give us a bigger loan than we need tells us so.
Unfortunately, I find the reverse to be true. More often than not, the more stuff I acquire, the less happy I am.
Every single thing I bring into the house requires my time and energy to maintain, clean up and keep organized. The more things I get, the more the drain on my resources is increased—exponentially. Because the kids don’t take out just one toy and play with it. They take all the toys out. I give myself away day after day trying to put it all back and to keep it from exploding all over the driveway.
I also find that the more I have, the harder it is to find what I really need. How many hours of my life have I spent digging through closets and drawers looking for something I know I have around here somewhere? How many minutes have I wasted trying to keep all our things organized and put away? Too many.
Of course, some things are necessities. My children need socks and underwear. Other things are beneficial privileges, like special playthings and good books. But having enough is not my problem. Having too much is.
When I have too much, my time, attention, and financial resources are bound up in the stuff of earth. It crowds in and demands my affections. I begin to prioritize things that don’t matter and forget about things that do. My heart is not free. I am a slave to an insatiable master.
I may think I am generous and humble. But one trip to Target is all it takes to close my selfish fists. When I am reminded of all I do not have, I am less delighted to give, less concerned with humility, less inclined to do without excess so another can have enough. I begin to think it’s more important to have matching towels in my hall bathroom than it is to give to someone in need. I really believe it is vital to give my kids a “good Christmas” than it is to save money for their futures.
So I invite the stuff in. I do it out of envy. I do it out of greed. I do it out of guilt.
It is easy to buy into the lie that I need to provide a better childhood for my kids than the one I had. It’s a nice sentiment—we should all strive to learn from our parents and be better. But a materialistic childhood is not a happier childhood. You do not need to walk very far into a toy department to know that is true. There, you will hear children with more than enough stuff screaming, “Mommy! I want that! Mommy! Buy that for me! Mommy! You’re a mean mommy if you don’t get that for me now!”
It is more enjoyable to live with children who are content. It is more enjoyable to live with myself when I am content. But how do we get there, especially in this season of excess? Here are some ideas:
1) Turn off the TV, or at the least, turn off the commercials. The goal of television is to sell you something. Advertisers have worked very, very hard to figure out how to get you and your children to believe you need something you don’t have. Everyone on TV has more and better stuff than you do. Don’t give them the opportunity to give you their sale’s pitch because they will win.
2) Set a budget, and stick to it. Guilt is a powerful emotion, especially for mothers. If you do not have a budget you will likely spend more than you should on gifts for your children.
3) Downsize. Spend some time today going through closets and toy bins. You will be shocked at the stuff you have been hoarding that you do not need and that no one uses. Stop trading your time to maintain stuff that has no value. Get rid of it today.
4) Give! Charity is the best anecdote for materialism. It is important that your children sacrifice in order to give. Don’t just give them money to put in the offering. Give them age-appropriate jobs to do to earn money to give away. Then, find a charity your entire family can support. You can sponsor a needy child. Pack a shoebox. Save and buy an animal for a needy village. Give bracelets. Your children can even earn money and use it to purchase food for a food bank or items for a homeless shelter.
Are your children happy with little? Are you content with what you have? Make it a priority to break free from the bondage of materialism. When contentment fills your home, you will find it easy to enjoy your children. It is natural and easy to enjoy those who are at peace in a world filled with stuff.
Please join us tomorrow for Day 28: Teach
For further thought:
1) If your children have a problem with materialism, check your own heart before trying to change theirs. If you struggle with these things, chances are your children will too. Confess your weakness to God and ask for help to overcome this sin. Then, set about to change your behaviors first. Let your children see your good example!
2) As a family, memorize Matthew 6: 19-21, which says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
3) Compare and contrast the attitudes of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22) and the faithful widow (Mark 12:41-44). Do you hold your treasures tightly in your fists, or do you give generously and sacrificially out of your abundance? Find one thing today that you can do to move toward becoming more like the faithful widow. Perhaps you can give up that morning latte or choose to make a gift instead of purchasing one. Whatever it is, begin to make steps in the right direction!