I remember when I was happy with very little.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have much. We had food and a roof over our heads; we had bikes and some Star Wars toys, and we were happy. I have as many memories of catching lizards on the hill behind our house in Greenville as I do of any Christmas or birthday gifts. One year we had so little that my mom couldn’t afford to get us the usual assortment of candy for our Easter Baskets, and all we got was a bag each of fun-sized Milky Way bars. We thought it was the best Easter ever. A whole bag of candy bars to myself! What more could a kid ask for?
When I was young and single, I had very little. At age 23 I could fit everything I owned into my ’86 Isuzu Trooper, and that’s what I did when I drove across the country to go to seminary in Chicago. I made friends and had great experiences and learned a ton, and the sum total of my worldly possessions would have fit into an oversized closet.
When Carey and I were newly married, we had almost nothing. We lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, a great place to live if you have the money, but we didn’t. I drove an ’89 Jeep Cherokee that I got at an auction for $1200, and then spent three times that much over the next few years on major repairs when it broke down. Carey was working at a daycare for $9/hour. I was an intern at our church and had two or three part-time jobs. On Friday nights we would go on a date to the Sonic Drive-In and a nearby theatre that showed second-run movies for $2. At one point Carey’s car broke down and we left it sitting in the driveway for several months because we couldn’t afford to fix it. She took my Jeep and I biked to work, and we put off the repairs until the weather turned cold. Her brother lived with us for a while, and then later her sister, which helped with the rent. And through it all, we were happy.
Last week I wrote about the lessons we learn in our spiritual lives that we forget and need to be brought back to. For me, one of the spiritual truths I have found myself drifting away from is the fact that we don’t need stuff to be happy, because we have God. Somehow it feels like that was clearer to me when I was younger. Over time, the simplicity of youth has been replaced by the trappings of adulthood, and now it feels like life will be good when I get the things I want. When did that happen?
The Bible teaches that Jesus is the one true source of joy and peace. In John 4, He told the Samaritan woman at the well that He could give her a spring of water inside, welling up to eternal life, and that anyone who was willing to receive what He gave them would never thirst again. Jesus gives us joy that comes from within. Contentment comes from being at peace with God, not from being surrounded by worldly comforts. These are things I know and teach, and yet too often I find myself placing my hope in material stuff.
Some of the blame lies with the realities of adult life. I have three kids now, and a mortgage. The bills have to be paid. I want to give my children a happy childhood, good experiences that turn into good memories. And as the years go by, I have spent more and more time dealing every day with the stuff of this world, and I have developed a taste for some of it that I didn’t have before. I’ve found I really like having a reliable vehicle that doesn’t need to be repaired all the time. It’s nice to have a drawer full of snacks and chocolate in my office so I can have a little treat every afternoon. Then after a while, I realize that I expect to have a reliable vehicle, and if it breaks down I’m downright grumpy about it. A drawer full of chocolate feels like a right, not a blessing. I have forgotten to be grateful, and have started to feel entitled instead. Somehow having all the stuff I want is what makes life good, and I have lost the simple joy of knowing Jesus and being grateful for life.
In many areas of the Christian life, I think it’s safe to say I’ve grown over the years. I pray more than I used to, and I know the Bible better. I’m more gracious and patient with people. I experience more victory over temptation (not complete victory, but more than before). I’m more of a servant. I’m less selfish with my time (sometimes). But in this one area, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I may have actually gone backwards. Despite all that growth, I just might be more materialistic than I was 20 years ago. The world has got its claws in me, and I need to re-learn what it means to enjoy Jesus regardless of my circumstances.
Can you relate? Have you gotten bogged down in money and comforts, in worldly hopes and expectations? It’s hard to avoid. We live here, after all. The bills have to be paid, and many of us are blessed with much more than we actually need. I want to learn to receive God’s gifts with gratitude, but to have the same peace in my soul I did when I had nothing to my name. I have Jesus, after all. What more could I ask for?
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.—1 Timothy 6:7,8
You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.—Psalm 4:7