Recently, my six year old asked me if he could buy a piggy bank with his own money. I told him he didn’t need one because he already has a “bank” his Grandpa built for him. It’s a beautiful wooden box, complete with an old style post office mail box door. Each one of our boys has one. My Dad even engraved each bank with our sons’ names and used their initials to create their own personalized combination locks on them. They’re beautiful and serve the purpose they are intended for well. I didn’t see the point in buying a replacement.
After much begging, I eventually (and very reluctantly) gave in to my son’s request for a new bank. He so badly wanted to spend his own money and I thought maybe I could use this as a learning experience. So, we ordered his new piggy bank using his money. It arrived five days later. Upon opening the package, I could see the disappointment written all over his face.
It was ironic to me that he wanted so desperately to spend his money on something that would hold and protect all of his prized coins and paper money, even though he already had a place for it. The excitement over buying something new, something he perceived as better, has worn off. In fact, he was deflated the minute he held it in his little hands and could compare it to what he already had.
The lesson here? More is not always better.
Since then, my son has been on a kick to spend his money on SOMETHING else, anything. The disappointment of not being filled and satisfied by what he already had and then what he bought to replace that thing was overwhelming to him. The desire to buy “more and better” seems to be a trend that is only growing in our culture today. And it starts early.
At this time of year, these feelings only seem compounded by the anticipation of Christmas. Their wish lists continue to grow as conversations often center around all things toy-related. I get it, but once again, I’m aiming for a much more Jesus-centered Christmas. I know how exciting it is for kids to dream of the things they hope to get at Christmas time. I understand how easy it is to think that having more will make you happy, that even replacing the things you already have with “better” things will bring about fulfillment. I get it, because sadly, I have suffered from this thought process and the emptiness it actually creates.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
As I realize how easy it is for me to fall prey to this line of thinking, I am now more aware of how much more so it must be for our children. Discontent and ungratefulness are at the heart of this matter. So, I am praying that as God reveals this sin in my own heart and shows me how to be content in all circumstances, that He would also show me how to teach contentment and thankfulness to my boys.
Last week we read The Fisherman and His Wife for the first time. This is such a great story for illustrating the ways in which someone can fall into the trap of thinking that more and bigger is better. My four, six, and eight year old boys completely understood the moral of this classic tale. My oldest son said it perfectly, “If only the fisherman’s wife realized that she already had a good life. Every time she asked for a bigger house and more power, it only made her sadder because she forgot that more things don’t make you happy. They only make you want more.”
One of the ways we are now practicing contentment is to take the first few minutes of our homeschool day to talk about all the ways we are thankful for what we have. I put together a “Thankful Journal” for each of us. Then we take five minutes to write or draw the things we are thankful for. This is such a good way for us to remember all the ways that God has blessed us. Beginning our days with a posture of thanksgiving instead of discontent is like giving God an invitation to fill our hearts with His Joy! I’m also less apt to complain and grumble about the difficulties and unmet expectations of the day when I choose to be thankful.
I don’t want my contentment (or my joy) to be dictated by my circumstances. (Philippians 4:11-13)
There’s nothing like giving away some of what we have to help us become more content. It automatically places the focus on others and removes the self-centered spotlight on ourselves. When we spend time going through our clothes, toys, and books to evaluate what we “need” and what we can give away, it changes our hearts and helps us to live in service to others and God.
As I look for ways to impress upon my boys the importance of a thankful heart and a contented spirit, I am becoming more aware of just how many opportunities to express gratitude that I miss. In the busyness of our days, I often forget to say thank you. I know that I notice when my boys or my husband show gratitude for something I’ve done. It lifts my spirit and makes me smile. I know it does the same for them.
Praying together before meals and at bedtime is another perfect time to share all the ways we are thankful for God’s blessings. Since our boys were little and able to talk, we’ve always encouraged them to pray for something they’re thankful for. Often, their lists include everything under the sun and they’ll go on and on before letting someone else take their turn. I’m more than okay with that. And then there’s our littlest one who is two. He bows his head, closes his eyes and folds his sweet little hands in his lap and prays this simple prayer each night, “Thank you God, Amen!”
How do you teach your kids how to have a heart of gratitude and contentment in a world that teaches more is better?