Monday, December 6, 2010

The futility of 'things'. (Project 74: Day 1)

In 74 days, I'll be turning 35, and for almost 35 years I think I've been doing it wrong. You see, I've grown up in a culture that teaches "Bigger is Better", there's always "more" to be had, and "more" will make you happier. And I and my family have bought into this message- bigtime! The five of us now occupy a home that might house five families in other parts of the world. We have 4 bedrooms, 2 studies, 2 lounge rooms, 2 bathrooms, a dining room, a kitchen and a laundry. We have gadgets and screens, clothes and cars. Heck, I even have a KitchenAid mixer! (Thanks, Hon!)
And yes, I would say we're happy.
But content? Not so much.

I now see that we have been believing the world's lies. They're strong lies, and have permeated our culture like a fog, so thick that most of us have been tricked  into chasing apparitions- things that we think will take us to our destination, but only end up leaving us disoriented, disappointed, and overwhelmed with how complex our lives have become. Things will not make us happier. Or at least, not lastingly!

When I got my mixer that I'd salivated over for more than a year, I was thrilled- for a whole 72 hours. Now when I use it, I still get enjoyment out of it and appreciate its superior abilities. But it proved to me that the feeling that we think we'll have when we get that long-coveted possession is only transitory. And to spend our lives chasing after that feeling is absolute foolishness! King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2 actually GOT everything his heart desired, and he found it was all empty, meaningless. Why are we trying to re-write history and get a different result?

So what is the answer to all of this? How do we stop the quest for 'things'? The Apostle Paul got there: listen to this quote, from the Message Bible.
        I'm glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you're again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don't have a sense of needing anything personally. I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. 
Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. - Philippians 4:10-13

There are lots of physical things that we can do to jump off the world's "more is better" bandwagon and simplify our lives, but I believe a vital starting point is found in this passage. It's peppered throughout the text, but becomes plain in the last line: "Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it  through anything in the One who makes me who I am." Things do not make us who we are. Successes and accomplishments make us look good in the eyes of other people, but when we're alone with ourselves, they don't mean anything to us. At least not for long. Like Solomon said, it's all meaningless. 

So we don't need to amass goods to make us feel happier. We all know that that doesn't work. 
Instead, we can find happiness and contentment in turning our hearts towards the One who makes us who we are: God, the author, the creator, the One who plans good things for our lives.
Being thankful for what we have helps us to appreciate the blessings God has already given to us, instills a great feeling of contentment, and reduces our need to chase after more.

Over the next 74 days, I am going to take steps towards living a simpler, more focused and content life. There will be lots of reflecting, assessing, and plenty of culling going on, but woven firmly through it all will be the constant reminder that it is God, not 'stuff', who gives me meaning and purpose. I hope you'll journey with me.

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