Do We Really “Need” It? A Former Student Says NO.

A student from a few years ago just came to mind as I began to notice how many people around me were saying what they “needed” for Christmas. “I really need black boots because all my other pairs are brown…I need a TV for the bathroom…” ? Then, I noticed I too was inappropriately using the same word…“I need to get Christmas hand soap”… “I need poinsettias for the living room…” Um, no I certainly do not “need” them. They are yet another decoration on top of an already well-decorated house.

My student was 23-years young and she entered the class armed with creative graphs and charts on actual boards, along with PowerPoint slides. The class was tasked with offering a “persuasive” presentation, their chosen position requiring data, personal experiences, evidence or other concrete material to support their stand. This student’s claim was that the modern couple in contemporary America did not need the income they professed to need.

Hmmm. I leaned in. This one might be truly interesting. She was so young to determine that she didn’t “need” a new-built house by 27. So young to claim that kids should have one parent at home and for most, they did not “need” the second income. On that note, my eyes darted around the room, certain there would be protestors following her controversial comment. When I began college teaching 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought anything of her words because people tended to simply accept whatever family choices their friends, neighbors and co-workers made. Now, students are so offended that all statements – conservative or liberal, happy or sad, ethical or unethical, etc. etc. etc.-lead to someone expressing offense.

After making a few controversial claims (as required in stating a “position”), she proceeded to support her points, beginning with the story of her grandparents. They lived on one income, grandpa worked without a college education and raised two children. The story was compelling, with grandpa ultimately retiring close to being a millionaire after owning a fine home and putting his kids through college. He was not an entrepreneur, but a laborer. They did not live in squalor but a nice middle-class neighborhood. She emphasized that they did not go without, but had plenty including the occasional family vacation.The presentation wore on, charts with credible sources showing the average income in 1950, along with the prices of several products used daily then and now. She compared prices, inflation, took into account the skyrocketing cost of vehicles and housing and contrasted everything against the incomes. Upon completion, there was an overflow of cash among modern couples after the “needs” were met. Where did this overflow go? To the new “needs”: everything from $500 birthday parties to regular manicures, pedicures, multiple devices per person, per household, overseas vacations for spring break instead of trips to Florida, new cars every two years…and on it went. High school senior trips are no longer using district budgets for a fun field trip, but parents are expected to hand over a thousand for a senior trip to France.

We fell into the too-much-spending more times than I care to admit while raising our children. When I was growing up, my parents and step parents would have never given such luxuries a thought, let alone paid for them.

These “new needs” are the norm. Unlikely that many people will end up millionaires on two full time incomes, let alone one household income with the way we spend.

She effectively argued that the cultural beliefs Americans espouse profoundly affect how they handle their money. The cultural belief system, regardless if flawed, emotionally harmful or even if it causes neglect in marriages or parenting, is one of the leading factors in “needing” more money and stuff. Although excruciatingly unpopular in the modern college classroom among peers who vehemently disagreed with her fundamentals could not deny the power of the data.

Just like the next girl, I have been guilty of buying more than I should during Christmas. Perhaps a combination of age, maturity and having older kids, I don’t splurge like I once did. But compared to half the world’s population, many in poverty, yes, I still spend more than is necessary. When kids are little, there is thrill and excitement that’s still worth every penny to me. But, little kids also don’t “need” much to truly be joy-filled.

As individuals dwelling on this planet (even though we’re not of it), it’s natural to want cool stuff. Collectively, no matter how devout or grounded we are, we periodically look over the fence to see what’s up with the seemingly greener pastures next door. We know better, but we still occasionally ponder our choices. Frankly, bigger homes have more space and that’s not a bad thing. Convenience household items that we don’t necessarily “need” honestly make life easier. But, at what emotional, spiritual and relational costs?

The points are priorities and balance. As Franklin Covey says in his famous Habits books and in First things First, if everything important is cared for first, then go get the rest.

I’m a fan of setting goals – earning anything you want…a degree, income, achievements…they are part of life. What my student reminded us all of that day is that the earning requires balance.

What were once “treats” are commonplace. What was once “special” is now expected. And for those who still can’t earn enough to get those treats and special-everything, it makes them feel bad. It really shouldn’t, but it stings. Pulling back from the cultural norms is necessary to regain some perspective. That is hard during a season when we spend hours online shopping and walking through beautiful stores enticing us with all sorts of things we never knew we always wanted!

God knows what we “need” and fulfills more wants than we give Him credit for.

He knows we want to spoil our kids and surprise someone special with a “wow” gift at Christmas. There is nothing wrong with those things and I embrace them. During this holiday season, I’m just going to retreat every now and then, so I can fully give thanks for what I already have.

Gratitude

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

He remains the same.

Me? Well…this happened about a week ago:

The morning: I was driving in heart-felt praise singing along to What a Beautiful Name. I was in tears. Connected to our God. Thankful. Happy. Resolved to have a peaceful day.

But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Matthew 13:6-7

Mid day: The weeds of life were choking out the good seed that was planted in the morning. I realized I was clenching my teeth. Catching my reflection in a glass door, I saw deeply furrowed eyebrows. I was annoyed by many things. Suddenly, the lyrics to the early morning song began playing in my mind. I lowered my shoulders…Breathed deep…Raised my eyebrows off the bridge of my nose and loosened my jaw.

Today, I’m grateful that He is the same. With us. Present. Loving. Bringing us back again and again.

 

Gratitude – by A.W. Tozer

“Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.”

A.W. Tozer

Determined to Enjoy the Breathtaking Beauty of Nature, Despite the Profound Pain of Life


I had an early morning errand to run. The dawn hours were filled with thick fog. As I drove back down the street toward my house, the sun began to rise, peeking through the few remaining leaves on the trees lining the country road. I slowed down to fully embrace the rare merger of gentle sunlight, autumn-rich colors, dewy leaves and the five feet of mist hovering over the green grass.

I stopped the car at the end of the driveway, got out and examined a drop of water hanging from the very tip of a pumpkin-orange leaf. Warm sun touched my face and I looked up to see November clouds vying for sky space, slowly screening the sun. Glancing back at the tree in front of me, I was captivated by the leaf that although had just seemed to bloom, was already retiring to the barren ground. Looking around, my eyes were suddenly too small, my vision too narrow to properly absorb the exquisite beauty all around me. Sun peeked out again, brilliantly illuminating the fog across the landscape. I reached out my right hand, as if I could lay it on top of the thick mist. I smiled and breathed deep and thanked God and tilted my face up again toward the quickly greying sky. I was standing in seasonal change…pristine early morning…my description insufficient to adequately convey the magnificent canvas engulfing me.

As my breath deepened and my spirit appreciated, the moment was crushed as my mind wandered to my brother in law who was presently receiving a miserable cocktail of chemicals dripping into his blue vein. My peace was destroyed as I thought of his upcoming days, fighting the emotional turmoil that accompanies the physical suffering of chemotherapy. My eyes pierced through the fog, staring down at brown leaves, thinking of the woman I brought a meal to last night. She can’t eat, but would enjoy watching her family fill their bellies. Her disease robs her of truly living. My throat tightens as I think of how my courageous friend who lost her battle two summers ago would love this view.

The stunning scene still beckons my attention, but my memory transports me to a time when fall represented joyful anticipation for the future. The breaking out of fuzzy sweaters, Thanksgiving, the first snow, shopping for Christmas… As nature shed its old life, autumn somehow felt like a new beginning.

Thanksgiving will still arrive, along with the first snow. I’ll wear fuzzy sweaters and prepare for Christmas, but my mind and heart are more solemn than they were when I was 20. We grow up exclaiming we’ll never be cynical like our elders. Never become so weary that we fail to embrace life with zest, but the sadness can wear a person out. Abuse, murder, slander and harassment flourish out in society while in our personal spheres, we’ve hurt and we’ve watched our loved ones hurt. The pain steals away a bit of our wonderment.

The wind picks up and hits my face with cold. The sun is now fully concealed behind the ominous clouds that are somehow still beautiful in all their dark rage. I observe one tree on our land that is wholly stripped of leaves, bare branches ready to support the imminent snow. Six inches away, another tree is still hanging on to its leaves-many still green. The fullness and emptiness, co-existing so close to one another.

A few harsh rain drops pelt my cheek, but I refuse to get back in the car. I stand there defiant, emotion welling up in me, fighting to preserve the tranquility and lightness and warmth and sheer present-ness I had experienced only minutes earlier. What choice do we have? We must resolve to stay positive, to enjoy, to hug life. We must refocus again and again and again. We must fight to recover from the hard. Lest we too become hard.

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. Ecclesiastes 3:12

Photo: Family5Power