For this past Sunday’s message, Edric was tasked to speak on the pitfall of materialism, so he asked me to share some practical ideas on how we try to instil contentment in the hearts of our children. I have to say that we are a work in progress as a family and we keep learning what it means to be content in the Lord, but here are some tips that have working so far…
There’s no surprise here, but wait, there’s more!
Waiting is something children ABSOLUTELY NEED to learn early. We have this symbol that we do with our kids, especially for our younger ones. It’s called “the hand.” We calmly say, “Wait,” when they want something and want it now, and we give them the hand symbol, palm facing towards them.
If anyone of our kids doesn’t receive this positively or they act up, like our youngest daughter used to do (and sometimes still does), then we tell them, “If you fuss, you will not get it at all.”
It could be a snack, a toy, a gadget, anything that our kids feel they are entitled to at that moment, but if their attitude is demanding or we sense that it can be a training opportunity, we encourage them to wait.
One way we have done this is by practicing delayed gratification with Christmas presents and birthday presents. Since we have five kids, they get a ton of presents from relatives and friends. Although we let them unwrap each one, they don’t get to play with all of them. They can choose one or two and then the rest get put away for the next week or the weeks after.
Since I homeschool, it also works to my advantage because I use their gifts as motivational prizes. I say, “If you get your work done, you can play with a new toy!”
For our older kids, we challenge them to save up to buy a gadget or earn an app (virtual possession) that’s important to them instead of handing them the latest device or paying for a game that they want.
When our oldest son, Elijah, was eyeing an IPad some years ago, Edric gave him jobs to do like speaking in public during road shows or seminars. So he earned and saved up enough money to pay for 75% of his Ipad Air. He also had to canvas for the IPad and find the best deal himself. By the time he bought the IPad, it was after months and months of hard work, saving up, and researching.
Our second son, Edan, is one of those people who can obsess about something he likes. Last year he had his eyes set on a certain board game called Sushi Go Party. We made him wait for many weeks, maybe even months because the game wasn’t available locally. He wrestled with the waiting, but God knew he needed the lesson. Edan admitted that the desire for the game was so intense in a bad way that it was healthy for him NOT to get it right away. The protracted amount of time it took for him to wait for the board game taught him that he could be perfectly happy without it.
Because our older kids don’t like toys anymore and gravitate towards educational apps, books, and strategy board games, we have created guidelines such as, “Will this help you to grow in wisdom, stature, favor with God and men?” (This is based on the passage in Luke 2:52 that describes how Jesus Christ matured.)
This verse enables our children to filter through their emotions and excitement so they can discern whether a game (a virtual possession) will be profitable for them intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.
To weed out the tendency of our kids to be selfish, we remind them that God owns everything. We are entrusted with blessings as His stewards. So when they are given a material possession, we tell them, “You are a steward of this. You are assigned to take care of it. You don’t own it.”
As they get older, this reality sinks in and they are more likely to share and not utter statements such as, “No, this is mine!”
If our kids fight over an object, toy, book, or food and refuse to share, we take it away and explain, “Since you are fighting over this, no one gets to have it.”
Most of the time, they will apologize to one another when the source of their conflict is removed and they come to their senses. Suddenly, their capacity to share kicks in and they say to one another, “Okay, you can have it.”
Since the Lord owns everything, we also encourage our kids to give by tithing. Our kids don’t get an allowance as homeschoolers so they have to tithe from jobs we give them, garage sales, or gifts. It’s not always easy. In fact, I remember an instance when they barely made money from a business idea they had, but they still chose to tithe. Their faithfulness ministered to me because they struggled to make the money they did. He wonderful bonus was that God allowed to sell all of the stocks that remained after their event so they ended up making much more! (And they tithed from that amount, too.)
GIVE TO OTHERS.
Besides tithing, we do periodic clean-ups at home where we ask our kids to comb through their belongings and give away or garage-sale their stuff for dirt cheap. Edric and I do the same. It’s like a massive exodus of items from the home that go out in boxes and large bags. The purging experience always has a positive effect on our entire family. We realize that we can be content with less and be a blessing to others, too. Plus, it keeps us from accumulating and hoarding, as well as getting overly attached to material things.
Tiana and me…going through my side of the closet.
When there are opportunities to participate in ministry outreaches to the less fortunate, we also get our kids involved so that their focus and giving can be directed outside of themselves. When they recognize how destitute other people are, it encourages them to contribute to the lives of others rather than mere takers.
“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT)
I grew up with parents who didn’t buy luxury brand clothes, shoes, or watches which protected my siblings and I from developing an appetite for these things. They also taught us not to develop a sense of identity or worth from what we had or owned. Observing their spending decisions encouraged me to be conscious of mine as well, and challenged me to find my identity in Christ, not in what I possessed.
I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy shopping or buying things. However, I learned, from their example that clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, make-up, while fun to have, don’t bring lasting joy. Neither do they define who I am.
“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (Luke 12:15 NLT)
Since I have two girls, I have to be mindful about the way I spend on myself or even for them. With my three boys, it’s easy. They aren’t into fashion and they could care less about pretty things. However, with my girls, it’s a little more challenging.
In the car ride the other day, my daughter asked me when we were going to decorate her room and I answered, “Tiana, let’s wait, okay.”
I also added something like, “Why? Are you excited?” to which she replied with a big grin on her face, “Yes, because girls like things, right!?”
At first I laughed because she said this so honestly and innocently, but I realized that I need to be especially careful with her because, she DOES LIKE THINGS. When she sees sparkly, beautiful or cutesy thing, she gushes and exclaims, “Ooohhh, that’s so nice! Can I get it mommy?”
If she witnesses me being extravagant, it would be difficult for me to say, “No, or not right now..” However, I try my best to curb my own appetite so that I can exemplify simplicity for her and for my youngest daughter.
When I talk of simplicity I don’t mean neglect, or not trying, or being a plain Jane, or abandoning all forms of adornment. Simple in the beauty sense can mean elegant and tasteful, celebrating natural beauty versus the contrived, overly made-up, and flashy. Simple in the attitude sense can be about being appreciative rather than demanding, the ability to be content with a little rather than perpetually looking to stuff and material upgrades for happiness.
While fashion and beauty, as well as pretty things aren’t sinful in and of themselves (for example, we should try our best to look our best at whatever season we find ourselves in), it’s the focus and emphasis on these above the more important aspects of a person such as character and love for the Lord that can be spiritually dangerous.
1 John 2:15-17 very clearly states, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
It is also the motivations that drive our purchases and the acquiring, such as lust of the eyes (the incessant coveting) or the boastful pride of life (the desire to prove oneself and promote oneself), that we ought to guard our hearts against. The issue isn’t about whether we are lavish spenders or do bargain shopping, rather the weightier question is what is our purpose for the material things we spend our money on?
Working hard and striving for excellence are part of being stewards of the talents, opportunities, and abilities God has given us, and Proverbs tells us that God makes rich and adds no sorrow to it, but it’s also necessary to consider the reasons behind our lifestyle choices.
“For the covetous heart, stuff always comes first. In a consumer culture, the obtaining and maintenance of stuff can determine our job choice, our leisure pursuits, our friendships, our house size, our local church. It can actually dictate the course of our lives…Covetousness chains the heart to things that are passing away.” (God, My Heart, and Stuff by Dave Harvey)
WISELY EVALUATE INFLUENCES.
Edric and I find that being selective about whom we follow on social media, as well as paying attention to what we watch and listen to helps with cultivating a contentment culture at home.
Since we don’t want our children to have sub-cultures that compete with the values we are trying to instill in them, we don’t expose them to the social media phenomenon at early ages, too.
Till this day, our older sons don’t have social media accounts, and they don’t feel like they are missing out on an essential part of their youth. Eventually, they may need to connect with people online, but for now, they prefer to spend time with people face-to-face. Since they are homeschooled, we know most of their friends (and their friend’s families) very personally, and we know that they share similar values to us. Therefore it isn’t as difficult for us, as a family, to stick to our convictions on matters such as money and spending. We are on the same team.
Many parents tell me that the pressures their children feel to acquire more and have the latest of everything are partly due to the peer exposure they have. Whether it’s online peer pressure or relationships with classmates and friends, we need to instruct our kids to filter through these influences wisely, and help them choose the friends they want to surround themselves with as close confidants.
Let’s not discredit the fact that the TV shows, online programs, and music they watch and listen to also become a source of “peer pressure.” Young people glorifying materialism through their music videos, lyrics, and shows will inevitably influence our children and program their value system.
The same goes for us, as parents. If we are constantly watching, listening to, and filling our minds with images and/or having frequent interactions with people who tempt us to keep grabbing for more, then how can we expect to have the courage and conviction to live simply and model this to our kids?
When I was regularly entertaining myself with visits to fashion sites, or following people who promote physical beauty and the latest trends, I started to feel like my wardrobe was outdated and that it needed continual upgrades. This is one of the reasons why I subscribe to very few people and organizations on Instagram. I don’t want my account flooded with images that make me feel like I need more material things to be happy and fulfilled. (Edric only follows one person on Instagram. Oh, that’s me! Yey!)
I would caution restraint when we do online shopping, too. Amazon is my Waterloo. If I am scrolling through deals everyday, chances are I will buy most of the stuff I keep adding to my cart! Online shopping is amazing but there’s no end to what we can buy. Plus, there is such minimal effort involved in clicking the checkout symbol! So I have to flee the urge to window shop on Amazon by keeping myself from having too much idle time on my phone.
I don’t want all of this to sound legalistic. The point is that we need to positively challenge ourselves and our kids to be discerning about what we continually expose ourselves to, whether it be through media or friends, because they will profoundly impact our value system.
PRAY WITH THANKSGIVING.
Last year, our family was approached by an ad agency that proposed an endorsement deal guaranteeing we would be flown to Europe as a family. We signed with the company they represented in good faith. However, as the months progressed, we discovered that the trip, though approved by the local company, wasn’t approved regionally. As a result, the trip didn’t push through. Of course, the kids were disappointed.
Yet, I told the kids, “If God wants us to go, we will still get to go. If not, He has something better and we can trust Him.”
After all, just getting the endorsement deal was wonderful and something to be grateful for. Therefore, the trip, though implied throughout the preliminary discussions, would be a bonus if it ever happened.
Well, we didn’t get to go on the Europe trip in the month that we hoped to, however, it was a blessed year still. As we prayed for God’s will and trusted Him, we learned to be thankful and grateful for the many other opportunities and experiences He allowed us to share as a family.
God doesn’t always reward us with an amazing material blessing when we choose to trust Him. What He does reward us with is the gift of His presence, His joy, and His peace…infinitely better things. God’s greater will for us as found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is that we would experience what it means to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks all the time!
There are still instances when it’s tempting to compare what we don’t have with what others do. I struggle with this and I’m sure Edric and the kids do, too. However, we are all growing in area of trusting that God’s will is always what’s best for us.
This also means that God’s will is what is best for others, too. When our kids notice that their cousins or friends have more possessions than we do because they have greater financial flexibility, we tell them, “Let’s rejoice for them!”
After all, God loves each person so much and so personally that He knows exactly when to give and when to withhold. This perspective liberates us to quit comparing and to rejoice when others are blessed.
When we choose to be content in the Lord, less becomes more! We grow MORE in our character, in our faith, in our dependence upon the Lord, and in our capacity to empathize and relate to other people’s struggles. We also have MORE opportunities to experience God’s abounding faithfulness and grace!
“When covetousness seeks to chain our hearts to things passing away, grace empowers us to enjoy the One who is not only necessary, but enough.” (God, My Heart, and My Stuff by Dave Harvey)