A crazy thing happened when our family moved across town 4 years ago. In our previous house, we got free cable (despite the fact that we had cancelled it, the signal still got through). When we moved, we knew that we’d be forfeiting our free cable. We told our realtor it would be nice to add that detail to our house listing. We didn’t.
But when we bought a slightly larger house (to fit our kids that seemed to be growing) and moved across town–to a house with NO cable, we witnessed quite an interesting phenomenon during the Christmas season that first year: Our kids had no idea what they wanted for Christmas. We concluded that was because they had no commercials telling them what they wanted for Christmas.
We’re creatures who are often fixated on what others have, aren’t we? Yesterday my oldest daughter was in one of her high school classes and the teacher was loaning a workbook to any student who needed one. The catch was that the teacher wanted some collateral in return to ensure the books were given back at the end of class. The teacher told students, “give me your phone, and if you don’t have a phone, I’ll take your backpack.” A large percentage of the class’s students made their way to the front of the classroom and one by one they dropped their iPhones into a basket. When the dust settled, the teacher had a literal basketful of iPhones….and one backpack. Guess who’s.
When that story was relayed to me last night, I had a couple of emotions almost instantly. First, I felt pity. I thought, “Oh, that’s so sad. My daughter had to endure the shame of having to be the only one in her entire class without an iPhone. I really wish she had one. I really wish she didn’t have to stick out like that. I really wish her dad wouldn’t blog about it the very next day.” Okay, so I didn’t think that last one but you get the idea. I was feeling sorry for my lone iPhone-less offspring.
Next, I felt frustration. I felt irked-ness bordering on anger with all the parents of all those iPhone-toting teens. I thought back to the late 80s/early 90s when I was in high school and the only phone we had was attached to a wall in the kitchen and even then you couldn’t go anywhere because of the coil-leash that robbed you of any chance for privacy. I envied my friends who’s parents installed one of those 50-foot long coils on their phone. Sure, it created a pile of phone cord when not in use, but when you needed it, you could stretch it to your room. Or at least the hall coat closet.
So I thought, “Ugh. Why do all these parents give their kids their own phone? Don’t they know they’re making me look bad?!?” And there it is. The heart of the matter.
You see, I don’t really care (that much) about the moronic decision to give an 11 year old their own phone. Go ahead. This is America. You’re free to be wrong. And I’m free to say so. Really, the issue for me was more that I felt inferior as a parent because my daughter was seemingly the only one in the room without an iPhone to drop in the basket. That somehow that reality reflected poorly on me.
The whole situation led my mind to a larger issue; that of our insatiable desire to “keep up with the Jones’s”. You have a Jones family in your world. Probably several of them. Maybe you’re surrounded by them. Or maybe it’s you. Its this reality that drives human mobs to trample humans in an attempt to get their hands on an Elmo. Its this reality that tempts me to shell out money I don’t have for stuff I don’t need to impress people I don’t like.
Here’s the kicker: To keep up with the Joneses is to become a Jones. Think about it.
Have you ever noticed that the people who aren’t grasping at stuff seem to be the most satisfied? Crazy, right? Now, I don’t think giving (or receiving) gifts is a sinful thing. I’ve gotten gifts for my four kids this Christmas season and I’m excited to experience Christmas morning with them. I’m not saying that stuff is wrong. I’m saying that grabbing stuff is wrong. I’m saying that wanting more stuff for the sake of having more stuff is wrong. I’m saying that stuff isn’t going to ever make you satisfied. Because you weren’t created for stuff. You were created for way more than the race for having the most, biggest, or best.
Paul said it perfectly in Philippians 4:11 when he said, “…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”
Contentment doesn’t come from knowing my daughter isn’t left out in the next iPhone pile-up at school (because she will be). It doesn’t come from the acquisition of anything seen. It only comes when I “learn” that everything I need is found in my love relationship with my wife, in the parenting role I have with my children, and in the faith walk I have with Jesus.