'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions' Luke 12:15
We've reached the stage in preparing to move overseas where everything we own is being divided into three piles:
1) Take it with us
2) Put it in storage here
3) Give it away
I once heard a wise man say 'everybody should move house every five years, as it makes you consider what is really needed'. I would tend to agree with that. It has only been five years since we came back to the UK after four years abroad, and in that time we seem to have accumulated plenty of 'stuff'. It is actually quite helpful to sort it all out.
I've recently commented on the relationships we formed this year with other Christians who had moved away from their 'home' country. When reflecting on just what it was that enabled those relationships to flourish, there were obvious things such as being willing to move half way round the world with several young children including a baby (this is something we have done several times, but it is not something that our friends and family have easily been able to relate to). But a second major element is with regard to our shared attitude towards possessions.
Basically, they are just things. Yes, these 'things' can make our life a bit easier and more comfortable, yes. through this, these 'things' can aid us in our ability to show hospitality and serve others. But ultimately, they are just 'things'. When quality of life surveys are done in diverse countries around the world, there often emerges a paradox that people who live in material poverty and relatively poor health (using internationally accepted indices of these) will rate their quality of life as higher than those who live in well-resourced settings (such as the UK). Often when seeking an explanation for this, the answer is summarised in terms of priorities and values: 'they value people more than things'.
Isn't it sad that we live in a culture where increasingly people choose to prioritise belongings over relationships? And where people invest heavily in their earthly comfort and security whilst giving little thought to their eternal destiny? How do we help our children to understand what is of true value and what warrants and investment of their energy, talents and resources?
You will be glad to know I do not claim to have full answers to these questions! However, from our recent experiences I can see several ways in which our children have been exposed to what I consider to be a balanced perspective:
1) Belongings really are just 'things'. We often pass on or lend things to people who have recently arrived (or who are about to depart and have shipped most of their things back home). Similarly, we have been in positions of having to borrow from others (and this might be the case again in six weeks time). The boys found it quite hard to lend their train set to a family who have shipped all their toys. However, they also came to see the importance of sharing, being willing to lend and the fact that there are times when it does come with a bit of a sting. They are now delighted that they have been able to lend one of their very favourite things, because they know how much pleasure it should bring. (Over the year they have been very keen to want to lend things and make things for their friends, but nothing quite as beloved as the train set!)
2) Hospitality does not require a perfect house. We have had people over for quite basic meals, at times when the house has not been tidy (I must confess, it never feels very tidy, but when we plan to have guests, I do whizz round the more visible parts of it to make it presentable). However, it is more important to share and to enjoy fellowship. I confess, there have been occasions when I have hesitated before inviting somebody round at short notice (such as when you are in the park, and you say, 'Come back to mine for tea') but every time I have done this, it has been a time of blessing. Similarly, I have seen friends who have had quite basic furniture and things gladly share all they have. What we remember (and what the boys continue to talk about as the months go past) are the things we did and the conversations we had. Nobody can really remember what we ate, what we sat on of whether anybody's kitchen was sparking.
3) Through limiting exposure to media (we don't have a television and they are not exposed to advertising except on billboards out and about) the boys are not exposed to a constant stream of material things that they could have. Even still, it is amazing what seeing a billboard can do! I mentioned above that in low resource countries there is often great contentment; however, in one particular country a dictator had banned television and this remained law until he ceased power in 1994. Now that people can see what they might consider to be 'normal' on British or US television, there is increasing materialism. It is just the same with our children. As long as they don't know that certain clothing or certain toys are the 'must have' things for 6 year olds, they probably won't want them.
4) As a home educating family, the boys are not yet exposed to much peer pressure. I am sure it will come in time, and I do not want to be complacent here. (I remember once after church, one of the boys asked me, 'Mummy, when are you going to buy me an ipad?' - because he had seen so many other children there with ipads, and just presumed this was a normal thing you got at a certain age). We spend time with a range of people of different ages, social status and nationalities, and there isn't a single dominant group that they seek to emulate.
5) I suppose some of it also comes through the friendships we have as parents. We have reached an age (I think it is known as 'middle age', but I prefer 'mid-life') where many people around us do prioritise 'settling down' - getting the right house in the right area, getting the children into the 'right' schools and all the time making provision for the uncertainties of the future. I do not wish to say these things are not important (we also bought a house, have carefully considered the area where we life, and have invested a lot of consideration and prayer in their education. We also have insurance and a pension plan); the difference is that these are simply tools in life, things that we do and seek to do with wisdom, but don't idolise. I remember once spending an entire Sunday afternoon with a newly married couple who wished to discuss double glazing. The same couple talked to me for over an hour about their chosen pram when they were expecting a child. I find that hard - not because double glazing or prams are wrong in any way, but rather that I would not choose to have such conversations! I think (I hope!) we do gravitate towards people who 'value relationships more than things'
It is my prayer for the boys that over the weeks ahead (and of course the longer term) that they identify correct priorities.