I was reading a daily post from Joni Eareckson Tada’s ministry. (You can check it out here.) In the devotional, Joni said something I loved:
“Gaining contentment means equalizing your desires and your circumstances….It is wiser to subdue your heart to match your situation.”
I like the word subdue. It makes me think of a cowboy taming a horse.
You see that picture above?
That horse is me sometimes when I shop at the mall or visit a fancy bakery.
I walk into the store, look at all the wonderful things around me, get a case of the “drools”, and promptly become unsettled in my circumstances. Oh, I want that, I think to myself, and my desire for the thing becomes overwhelming, despite the fact that I may not need it or be able to afford it.
It’s all I can do to walk out of the store empty-handed.
Unfortunately it’s the same for our kids.
They are constantly bombarded by print ads, commercials, and pressure from their peers to buy the latest things. Merchandisers convince our children that their product is either the “thing they need” (think red skinny jeans from Gap), “the thing that is better than past things” (think Xbox One or PS4), or the “thing that is a must-have part of a collection or series (think Skylanders – if you don’t know what any of these are, be glad).
All those messages convincing our children to buy things can turn the little darlings into, well, bucking broncos.
When my daughters were little they loved to play with “Littlest Pet Shop” animals. Cute, big-eyed, and oh so collectible, these little plastic replicas of the animal kingdom were high on many kids’ must-have lists. Every time we went to Walmart they wanted to check out the Littlest Pet Shop section of the toy department to see if there were any new animals available. But they already had many of them at home.
But they weren’t content with their many animals because new and improved animals came out every few weeks. There was the sparkle series. Then the magnetic series. Then the minis series.Then, of course, there were the mice – the cutest of all the LPS animals. They loved the mice most and wanted every kind of little plastic rodent they could get their hands on: mice sitting up, mice sniffing the ground, mice eating cheese, etc .
Their desire to collect these creatures became a bit obsessive (as Joni would say, their desires exceeded their circumstances). It came time one day for my husband and I to step in and try to subdue their hearts.
If you are feeling a bit trapped in the spending treadmill with your children, may I suggest sitting them down for an honest discussion about contentment; especially during this Christmas season. Here are some ideas to help:
1. Explain to your child that they may feel happier with that new toy or that new shirt for a week or two, but the happiness won’t last; a new “best thing” will soon be waiting to entice them. Draw from past examples. Are there toys that your kids enjoyed for a brief time then left in a closet to gather dust? Give an example in your own life where you thought something would make you happy, but the happiness was fleeting (for me, it was when I was six years old, shopping with my grandmother, that I spotted a wonderful plastic telephone that said “hello” and “how are you today” when you dialed it – yes, dialed. It sang a siren call to me from the top shelf of the department store. My grandmother lovingly bought it for me and within two weeks I had shoved it on a back shelf in my room.)
2. Don’t let your child buy things on impulse. There have been many things I have purchased, or the kids have purchased, that didn’t look quite so incredible sitting on our kitchen table, or after a good night’s sleep, as they did displayed in the store. If there is something your children thinks they really want, have them go home and sleep on it, and see how they feel about it the next morning, or the next week. There’s a good chance it won’t feel quite so important.
3. Explain that God wants us to be content. God knows that when we are satisfied with our circumstances, no matter what they are, we will feel closer to Him. When we are more focused on that new Lego set in the magazine ad than our neighbor’s well-being, or praying for a friend, there’s a problem. I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Or, how about Phillipians 4:11-13 where Paul says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
4. Model contentment for your children. Let them hear you say “no” to something you really want and explain to them why you chose not to purchase the item. Let them see you hungry for God and not that cute pair of shoes in the store window. If you are worried about finding time to shop for that perfect gift more than finding time for Advent there’s a problem. (Yes, I am preaching to myself here.)
5. Model contentment for your children.
Oh, did I say that already?
Why, yes I did! Because it’s THAT important! Your children watch you more than they hear you.
6. Lastly, but certainly not least, stand your ground. Don’t be afraid to say no to that Lego set that they so desperately want, even though your basement is already overrun with little bricks. Don’t hesitate to suggest something different than yet another plastic action figure. The toys my husband and I picked out for Christmas, that weren’t specifically on our children’s wish lists and leaned toward the educational (think science experiment set or artist’s markers), sometimes turned out to be their favorite gift. Be loving, but stand firm in your convictions and remind your little dears that you are older and wiser. 😉
God gives us the power and the example to subdue our heart, and, as parents, He has given us authority to help our children subdue theirs. This Christmas season let us rope in our hunger for “stuff” that moth and rust will destroy, and, instead, keep our hearts subdued to better revel in the glory of Jesus’ coming to be among us.