Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Pride of Life and Too Many Toys

When I had my first child I down-scaled my full-time job to a part-time, home-based homeschooling facilitator position, visiting the Charter school campus for individual monthly meetings with 26 different families. I also taught two 90-minute reading enrichment classes on campus two days a week, and a 6th grade social studies class once a week. For about 4 months I brought my baby to work, but when he became too mobile, that no longer worked.

One of the families offered the babysitting services of their college-aged daughter, and having no family in CA, and knowing that this girl was probably a Christian, I hired her to come to my home two days a week, five hours at a time, during which I would come home to nurse my child briefly, before going back to finish meetings.

This arrangement meant that I had no babysitting while I did the follow-up paperwork from these meetings, and lesson planning, at home. Peter was a very active child from an early age--rolling over early, crawling early, and walking early. He was high-needs and didn't play with toys on his own well, so trying to get my work done became extremely stressful. I had $26,000 in student loans to pay, we had two car loans, a home loan, and credit cards; my quitting work was impossible at that time.

In my new-parent ignorance, I thought interesting toys would be the answer. Maybe if he had enough to do, he would let me get some work done. I was already up late into the night planning lessons, and nursing him, and I was desperate for a solution that still kept him by my side.

Over the years I had that job (three years total), we bought a lot of toys and books and God added another baby boy to our family 22 months after my first was born (we used credit cards during that time, so of course we were overspending on toys). I wish I could say we quickly learned the folly of too many toys, but no. It went on even after we moved to Ohio, where I planned to run a small in-home preschool/daycare, which never came to fruition. I did babysit for infants before having two girls of my own, but I never ran a preschool and haven't worked since (the sale of a CA home in a good economy took care of that debt).

So, we had all these toys. When conservative, older people came to our home, they would say, "Wow. These kids have a lot of toys." I knew from their demeanor it was a criticism, but I rationalized it. Everything I bought had teaching potential; they weren't mindless toys, books, puzzles. They were curriculum.

The Lord didn't leave me there, thank goodness. He didn't allow me to keep rationalizing my over-indulgence. Eventually, he helped me view it as sin. I was chasing something unholy: the pride of life. 

I looked up the "pride of life" so I could give you the best possible definition, and here is what I found (below):

The phrase “pride of life” is found only once in the Bible, in 1 John 2:16, but the concept of the pride of life, especially as it is linked with the “lust of the eyes” and the “lust of the flesh,” appears in two more significant passages of Scripture—the temptation of Eve in the Garden and the temptation of Christ in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8-10). The pride of life can be defined as anything that is “of the world,” meaning anything that leads to arrogance, ostentation, pride in self, presumption, and boasting. John makes it clear that anything that produces the pride of life comes from a love of the world and “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
I gave away a great many toys, and I learned something about my misdirected heart. Education was a false god to me. I spoiled my children in the name of knowledge and it felt okay for awhile, until God helped me see something that every teacher needs to realize: How soon a child learns to read, or how much she knows compared to other children, is not important in the Kingdom of God. It is my duty to teach my children, but not to make them superstars.

In fact, when we happen to have a superstar child, educationally speaking, we have to constantly guard against pride--our own and our child's. We didn't create a superstar child; God did. The child didn't earn his superstar academic status; God gave it as a gift. God gives out abilities and as parents, we shepherd them; we help the child make the most of God's gifts, while exercising humility.

Four years after we moved to Ohio my husband lost his job and we lost our credit, and there was no more buying, except at garage sales or thrift stores (I had to learn to temper that, as well).

You'll think I'm crazy to say this, but that was the very best thing for us spiritually. Instead of chasing the pride of life, we began to fight shabbiness and household items and vehicles in disrepair. I have learned to carry myself with dignity at church, even while at times looking unfashionable and wearing the same jean skirt week after week.

It feels wonderful to have on a stylish outfit you know you look good in. It feels great to have pieces in the closet that work together, fit well, and are current. Sometimes that's possible via thrift stores, but usually not, if your funds are limited.

It feels wonderful to have an impressive home with clean, current furniture and decorations, or an impressive car.

You know what I've learned, slowly but thoroughly? My worth comes from the Lord. That sounds so simple, doesn't it? But getting there wasn't simple at all. I never would have taken this truth to heart had I not suffered a little shabbiness. I see life through a different lens now, and it's a clearer one. I see children with too many things who aren't likable or sweet, and their parents are so caught up in the pride of life, they don't realize they're handicapping their children spiritually and socially. That was me...that was us; we were blinded for a time.

Ideally, all of us should want for something, materially speaking, and our children too. We should reach for the Lord's comfort, not the world's. We should look to the Lord for our self-worth, not to the peers around us, with whom we try to keep up, unconsciously.

Let's not get our children everything they want this Christmas. We would do well to let them know need and want, just enough to go to the Lord for their worth and their comfort. An overindulged adult or child is blinded, handicapped, because of too much world, and too little God. It feels good for a time, but the world gives a false comfort, a false sense of worth, which doesn't serve us well after a tornado destroys everything, or after we lose our job and sink into shabbiness.

Our children are part of our legacy and the gifts we give them can be mostly spiritual, or mostly worldly. Whatever we choose gets passed on to the next generation of our family. When we wrap those presents and place them under the tree this year, let's evaluate what we're after. Are we chasing something unholy? Are we trying to make our children temporarily happy, at the expense of spiritual fruit later? Are we even going to like them, two days after they've opened too many presents?

Relatives must be on board with us, if we're to pass on more of the spiritual than the material. If necessary, we can sit down with them and discuss how many presents, and which ones, would bless our children but not spoil them. Raising a child for the Lord is an extended family endeavor, not just a nuclear family effort, however, parents are the ultimate authority. I think parents have a right to exercise restraint with gift cards and money given to children by relatives, especially when relatives don't share our spiritual views. When handled with prayer and tact, peace can still prevail at gift-giving time, and our households can emerge from Christmastime closer to the Lord, not further from Him. 

Restraint is valuable for many reasons:

~ Too many toys kills imagination and ingenuity. Kids in Africa design their own toys, becoming budding engineers in the process. Kids without many toys make up thrilling games that lead to precious sibling memories.

~ Too much stuff creates clutter and stress.

~ Too many choices creates stress.

~ Kids take better care of fewer toys, because when there are too many, they're all expendable.

~ Kids' hearts are full of gratitude only when the giving is done sparingly. The opposite of gratitude is entitlement, and first-world children suffer greatly from this.

~ Kids don't want toys so much as they want us. They want and need our time and attention; toys are a poor substitute for a parent's investment in a child's heart.

~ When they've opened everything and it was too much, and the spoiled attitude comes soon after, you can't go backwards. You can donate toys, but you can't create the sweetness one sees in an unspoiled child. You can't force your child to feel thankful for all the treasures they've opened. It just doesn't work that way. Gratitude comes easily when we were wanting for something--when we needed to wait and/or sacrifice. It's elusive when we get everything we needed, and more.

Once in a while I wonder what it would be like to have enough money to meet our every need, and many of our wants. Would I slowly but surely sink into entitlement? The Bible tells me it would be the greatest spiritual fight of my life, to accept all that material blessing, and still cling to God. I believe this truth, and I count myself blessed.

How do you pull the reins in at your house, at gift-giving time?



Sandy King said...

I have parents who are not believers who would probably view me as 'cruel' if I tried to alter their Christmas shopping habits . My mother also has a slight shopping addiction - and expresses her 'love' with stuff. I grew up with SO much stuff it was ridiculous.
As an adult I've lived through nothing and (now) plenty. It's the plenty that is challenging. I don't exactly feel like I have to keep up with the Joneses, but I am a sucker for a second-hand eBay bargain... and I reckon I've bought too many things because I was bored (because of long-term health problems).
I've confessed this to my husband and we decided to just give some of the gifts at Christmas and keep the rest to be used as surprise rewards through 2014. Neither of us want kids who think they're entitled, because that's disgusting.
Oh well... I've said sorry to God (as well as my husband!) and I know He'll help me. One step at a time. I must thank you, though, for bringing this to my attention in such a pleasant manner. God is good :-)

Christine said...

This whole thing is anything but simple, and I understand about your mother. Shopping is a stress reliever for so many, sadly. I have been its victim in my life too. God never leaves us where we're at, I know that. He is so faithful. Wishing you joy and peace this season, and I will gladly pray about the chronic health issue, friend.

Amber said...

There is part of me that dreads Christmas each year. Partly because it's another stress financially and because my kids have enough toys and things to outfit a small country (or at least it seems that way) and I have a hubby who was an only child and wants to give the kids everything they ask for.
Growing up we had very little and yet I remember having plenty and never wanting for much else.
It's difficult to balance when grandparents, and daddy, are happy to spoil the kids.
So I try to keep the balance by hand making my gifts to the kids each year, and making sure we go through and pick things to donate to our local shelter and do what we can to give back to the community.

I think when things were the hardest and leanest for us, financially, I was happier. We are not well off by any means but we get by. But when we had less, I felt that we had more. That's when I really learned to cook from scratch and now to make things last. That's when we begin learning to repair as much as we could on our own and we we did more as a family.

Great post!

Beth said...

Thanks for sharing. It is easy to get caught up in toys and things. We have really cut back what we buy the kids. They do get things from my family so we just give them one or two things. I would rather buy one thing that is better quality than a bunch of cheap things. Usually it is pj's and one or two things plus their stocking. I bought them pj's last year which are in a box in storage.

Tesha Papik said...

Excellent post! I was a spoiled child and got everything I wanted and it hurt me in many ways as an adult. I just read the Five Love Languages For Kids and I express love through gifts, so it can be difficult for me to not get caught up in shopping. I have to say now I do not like getting gifts but I LOVE giving them. I do not struggle with guilt in buying because we never use credit and we give a large percentage of money to the Lord. I am so blessed by how you challenge your readers in simple living and taking the path less traveled. I was just thinking of some items on my teenage sons list that I did not buy and I think I will leave them that way:)