Fair Bounty

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“It’s not fair!” It’s Alex’s new favorite phrase. It’s not fair that he can’t have a new toy every time we go to Target. It’s not fair that he can’t have a bedtime book when he’s piddled away the hour before 8p.m. doing nothing except singing absently, staring off into space. It’s not fair that I won’t let him have a snack ten minutes before dinner. “But Mommy, I’m staaaaaaarving!” (You know you said it that way, too. So did I.)

That was the last straw. “That’s it,” I said, losing my temper. “The next time you tell me it’s not fair, you’re going to start losing things, so you’ll learn what it’s really like not to have anything. You are not starving. Starving means you don’t get breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You have nothing to eat for a whole day. That’s starving. You are not starving.”

The thought of a whole day without food was so startling to him that he actually shut up for a minute. Then he started asking questions about being poor. I could see the gears spinning in his head, a mental count of all the toys he has downstairs, the ones he couldn’t live without and has now scorned, the desserts and the pastas and the steaks he eats.

As the next few days passed, I realized he wasn’t hurling that “f” word around quite so freely. Perhaps the lesson about materialism was sinking in, I thought with satisfaction.

Sunday morning I went into the closet to dress for church, and scowled at the selection. I need some new clothes! I hate wearing these old things. Yeah, I’ve got the new outfit, but that’s a winter outfit, and besides, I wore it last week. These clothes are so boring. I need to go shopping.

And I stopped, horrified. I stood there staring at the 6-foot-long bar nicely crowded with hanging clothes, as if seeing it for the first time. Yes, I have much less than many women—not even enough to require putting away one season’s clothes to make room for the next. Yes, I’ve had some of these clothes since before we were married. Yes, I’m hopelessly bored with most of them. But good Lord, the riches in my closet! How many women in the world would sigh with envy over my paltry, staid, boring wardrobe?

Sheepishly, I picked out the camel-colored suit we bought for $12.99 a dozen years ago and got dressed. I still didn’t like it, but like Alex, the reality of my blessed life had smacked me in the head, reminding me how very privileged I am to have the luxury of griping about such things.

My brother-in-law quoted an interesting tidbit recently: America is the only prosperous nation in the world whose people claim that religion is important to them. In the rest of the world, prosperity equals complacency; it is poverty that brings out a sense of what’s really important.

But before we set out in a flurry of self-congratulation, it seems to me that we have some soul-searching to do. Because if novelty and materialism is as deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness as Alex and I just demonstrated, then our faith is really a farce. Even now, as I type, I’m looking for some justification to get rid of my wardrobe and replace it—not because it’s worn out, not because it’s even out of fashion, but simply because *I want*.

Bounty is not a bad thing, nor is enjoying it.

“There is nothing better for man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors. Even this, I realized, is from the hand of God. For who can eat or drink apart from him?” (Ecclesiastes 2: 24-25)

But it must be enjoyed with a healthy perspective of gratitude, or too quickly, bounty turns to “chasing after the wind.” And so today I go looking for the blessings I spend more time griping about than being thankful for:

a closet full of clothes I’m bored with, more than I could possibly need
a lawn full of mole hills and weeds, that never slowed down, this wet summer
the richness of children who never let up, who always need a piece of me
a kitchen full of dishes that need cleaning
the milk that my kids are so good at spilling
the pile of DVDs that kids are always throwing on the floor
the pile of books that kids are always throwing on the floor
the seemingly endless babyhood of my littles
the boundless energy of my oldest, who wears me out
the extra pounds that I can’t seem to get rid of because we eat so well

Linked to Multitude Mondays at A Holy Experience.