I remember sitting in the cafeteria at college and watching the three-year-old son of the resident director. He was glued to the toaster and jumped up and down with uncontrolled excitement when the toast finally reached the end of the belt, dropped suddenly, and slid out. It was so cute that college students were lining up to make toast just to see his reaction again. That scene reminds me to take delight in simple things. Somewhere in the course of years, however, a child’s fascination with wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, and sticks in the yard fades. Instead of finding pleasure or contentment in simple things, we endlessly strive for what we do not have. Why do we lose our sense of wonder?
Perhaps we feel compelled to keep in step with our peers. When other people in our community are driving fancy cars or toting the latest gadgets, we may unconsciously feel the need to obtain the same items – or at least the same image. As we grow older the game of life becomes a serious business.
In addition, one of the marks of adulthood is the ability to assume responsibility. When our sense of responsibility is coupled with our drive to achieve a certain level of “success,” we leave little room for childlike joy and excitement. So are we forced to accept, “This is the way it is,” or is there a way out of the rat race? How can we find contentment in life? How can we guide our children to a life of joy instead of one resembling stale bread?
Christmas is a wonderful time to enact a simple plan toward simplicity and contentment. What would happen if parents made the conscious decision to enjoy what they had? Imagine the weight that would be removed if parents stopped competing with others in the quest for more stuff. This year, slow down and take delight in the gifts you have already received.
I have learned this lesson through personal hardship. I lost my full-time job in the summer of 2008. I spent countless hours looking for work, but nothing opened up. It was only through the generosity of others that we were able to provide food, clothes, school supplies, and toys for our three children. Christmas looked different for our family the last two years. My wife and I did not do any Christmas shopping like we usually did. Yet we received unexpected help from many people we did not know. In 2008 a fitness center adopted our family for Christmas and provided a bunch of gifts for each of our children. In 2009 a church did the same thing. It was just last month that I finally was hired as a full-time employee. I am now a technology specialist at Cape Henlopen High School. Over the past couple years, I have learned to be grateful for what I have.
One thing that helped was realizing that compared to the majority of people in our world, we were quite rich. When I traveled to Jamaica with my son in January of 2008 with a work-and-witness team, I saw poverty. The group we were with worked on repairing a church that had been destroyed in a hurricane. While there we learned about the vast number of people who did not have running water in their homes. We saw children bathing near the street. Several church services were cancelled due to rain. People walked to church and if it was raining too hard, people would not venture out for church. That is not something we often think about in our little corner of the world. We also saw the joy in people’s faces when they received a ball cap or a T-shirt. That joy did not come from getting more stuff. That joy came from gratitude for what they had. There is more to Jamaica than the resort hotels on the coast. There also is a population of rich people who do not have a whole lot of money. They are rich in joy and contentment. Many people there know a joy that is not dependent upon present circumstances. That is the joy we celebrate at Christmas.
It is wonderful to give gifts to others at this time of year, but do not allow our consumerist culture to take you prisoner. Instead, boycott busyness. Remember others less fortunate. Give and receive with humility. Enjoy the blessings of snow (yes, it is possible), hot cocoa, and the laughter of your children. Enjoy the green trees that have turned to flaming red, the painted sky at sunset, and a hug from a loved one. Decide to do less this month and enjoy more. Take pleasure in the fact that you have a warm bed to sleep in at night. Be grateful for what you have. It’s a simple way to model an alternative way of living to your children. You can guide them to a life of contentment if you live a life of contentment before them. Determine how you wish to celebrate Christmas and explain your decision to your children. Talk about your many blessings. Express your gratitude for simple things like cereal, oranges, and peanut brittle. Share with your children some toast – and contentment. •
Craig Taylor is proud to be raising three amazing children with his wife Tamara. As a church planter Craig uses his Doctor of Ministry studies to serve others. His passion for marriage enrichment and equipping parents for their role in the family has caused him to look for ways to connect and support others in our community. Craig also works at Cape Henlopen High School and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.