How can we nurture a proper view of “stuff”?
Every year as Christmas rolls around, I can’t help but take stock of all the “stuff” my family has. This year that schedule sped up because we moved right before Thanksgiving. So our fall was spent taking stock of pretty much every item we own. We sold some items and donated many others. It was a great time to discuss how richly we’ve been blessed and how we can use our blessings to help others, to talk about the role of material possessions in our lives, and to thank God for providing for our physical and spiritual needs.
You don’t need to move, though, to have discussions like this with your kids. Read this month’s contributions from Linda Buxa and Rob Guenther for ideas on developing a God-pleasing view of “stuff.”
When it came to teaching our kids about “stuff,” we kept it simple. When our children turned 12, they were on their own. (Not really, but it sounds more dramatic that way.)
In reality, that’s when our children became responsible for budgeting their own money. Usually when kids get an allowance, they view it as “fun money.” We wanted our children to learn that responsible financial stewardship means you give first to God, then put some away for savings, use another portion for responsibilities, and then you can spend on fun stuff.
So, beginning when our children turned 12, our part of the bargain was that we would pay for food in the house, educational expenses, music lessons, and a few staples like laundry detergent and hand soap. We did the math of how much we spent on clothes, school supplies, haircuts, sports equipment, toiletries, dining out, and entertainment. We added 10 percent to their total so they could give back to God.
Then we increased their allowance to cover those costs. (See . . . we still paid for them, but they were now in charge of allocating their money.) We also kept a running list of money-making endeavors that were above and beyond their normal chores if they wanted to earn more money. This teaches them that if adults want extra cash, they are welcome to get another job to earn it. It’s not like they loved doing it, but the kids did look for opportunities to babysit, to work for the neighbors, and to get real jobs with real paychecks when they were old enough.
Each is now thrifty in their own unique ways. One daughter cuts her own hair (and her sister’s hair) to save money. My son does not love to spend money on clothes and shoes, so those are on his Christmas list. They pack leftovers for lunch because that’s free to them. (Another lesson in stuff: nothing is free. If it’s free to you, someone else paid for it.) They look for clearance items, shop at thrift stores, and reuse school supplies. Still, it’s not only about being frugal. They have also learned that some cheap items will break or wear out quickly, so the investment in quality items can be worth the cost.
The potential pitfalls
In the beginning, they were so worried about running out of money, they never wanted to do anything fun. We had to encourage them that going bowling or to a theme park or eating out are all good things that can be built into a budget.
The whole idea is a lot more work for my husband and me. Before this method, I could shop on their behalf. This requires me to take the kids to the store where they can walk around and comparison shop.
It is tempting to want to step in when they are about to make what we consider a mistake. But we remember that it’s better to make money mistakes (or any mistakes, really) when they are young and the consequences are smaller.
Our oldest recently left for college and, during one of her first calls back home, thanked us for raising her to be independent. I didn’t need to hear that to believe we did the right thing for our family. But it sure was nice hearing it.
A thirsty pigeon flew over the city looking for something to drink. Finally, he spotted a big bowl of water and went into a dive to get what he needed to quench his thirst. Sadly, the pigeon didn’t realize that the bowl of water was only a picture on a billboard. You can guess what happened. The poor pigeon slammed into the billboard, broke his neck, and died. The pigeon was deceived by what looked like it would satisfy. In the end, he was killed by what he thought would give life.
Isn’t that the way it works with wealth and material blessings for us? Satan and the world around us promise that if we only had more and better and nicer things, new shiny toys, more games, more fun . . . if only we had these things, then we’d really be living! But what looks like it will satisfy and what promises to give life never really satisfies. It only leads to death in the end.
So how do we find contentment? How do we encourage it in our children? Well, nature abhors a vacuum. We can’t just get rid of malcontent, greed, and materialism from our hearts without filling our hearts with something else. Thankfully, God gives us that something else in his Word: Jesus.
The author to the Hebrews encourages, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have . . ..” But he doesn’t stop there. He tells us how we can do this: “Because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5).
So, to save us who crave everything, he gave everything. He humbled himself to be born in a barn, not in a hospital. He lived in a simple house, not one with 800 square feet per person. He didn’t have a car, a cell phone, or indoor plumbing. And yet, through it all, he was perfectly content all the time.
And you know why he went through it all: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). By his perfect life of contentment and by his innocent death on the cross, we are forgiven. We are right with God! We have heaven as our forever home! We truly are rich!
Maybe this year, instead of buying your children more things to put under the tree, consider buying your children an experience. Take them somewhere fun to celebrate the joy that is ours in Christ. Consider teaching them the joy of giving as they give an old toy to someone less fortunate. Consider teaching them the joy of generosity as you give them not just presents but money for them to contribute to a WELS ministry of their choice.
Focus on Christ this Christmas. Focus on why he came: to make us truly rich with the riches of heaven! And let Christ drive away our lack of contentment, our greed, and our materialism.
Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019