The Blessing (Or Curse) of Stuff and What We Are Really Teaching Our Kids

I ran into an old friend on my way out of the post office the other day. We quickly caught up on each other’s life and I was tempted to count how many times she said “I’m blessed.”

“We moved into a bigger house. We are so blessed! We finally upgraded to a new van. Just so blessed. My kids got into an exclusive summer camp and don’t you just love my new purse? I’m just so blessed! If God keeps blessing us, we hope to buy some land soon…”

I’m not opposed to blessings.

But I couldn’t help but notice how every time she said  “blessing” it was attached to a thing.

I’ve said the same words before.  But I’m talking about more than word choice and terminology.

Because after meeting the poorest of the poor on the other side of the world–and serving every Friday among the refugee women in my city– people without furnishings or cars or diapers or even enough food for the day, without “blessings” –I couldn’t help but wonder if they are blessed, too?

stuff

When we relate blessings to the stuff in our lives, our gratitude sounds hollow and shallow. Are we still blessed if our house burns down, our car breaks, our kids rebel, our health declines or we choose to give our money away?

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. Yes. And I know the heart is often thankfulness behind our statements, “I’m so blessed because I have ___.” But what if we lose these blessings? Can we still say I’m blessed?

This was the life-changing question that flipped my life upside down.

Because when I stood eye-to-eye with another mother in the slum who had nothing–nothing–and yet she praised God for being blessed with life and the  jug of clean water in her hand, I knew she possessed something I didn’t.

It has been said that our unhappiness is evidenced in our excess of stuff.

We buy and buy and buy and then when we have too much, we drag the stuff to the driveway, stick a price tag on it and sell it so we can buy more. What in the world are we teaching our kids?

We are teaching them that stuff makes us happy and even more stuff makes life better. When we unite “blessings” with “things” we are teaching our kids that if we don’t have things we aren’t blessed. I’m certainly not opposed to buying stuff we need and even things we want. But the truth I’ve discovered is that real blessing comes when I buy something someone else needs instead of something I want.

That’s the blessed life I want to show my kids. 

Because being blessed has absolutely nothing to do with stuff. It’s temporary. It can be gone tomorrow and it will be gone for eternity. We are blessed no matter what we have because God has given us grace, forgiveness, hope, a second chance and eternal life.

This is my story of how I went from suffocating from stuff to discovering the real “stuff” of God that we cannot buy.

4 Things We Can Do to Teach Our Kids the True Meaning of Blessings:

  1. Name your blessings as a family (but tell your kids they can’t name “stuff” or things money can buy).
  2. The next time you drive by a garage sale, use it as an opportunity to introduce this idea of our throwaway-so-we-can-have-more culture. Or take them to Goodwill.
  3. Gather extra stuff occupying closets and drawers and plan a garage sale and give the money away.
  4. Give gifts of time and service to family members instead of more stuff and encourage your kids to do the same.

We have stuff. But stuff shouldn’t have us.

 


Comments

  1. 2

    says

    I have been greatly blessed with God leading me down a path that caused me to choose to ditch 3/4 of my stuff and put most of what remained in storage. Now, my husband, 3 sons, and I are completely mobile. We have moved 6 times in 12 months, following the job market (my husband is a private contractor), and we currently live in a 300 sq ft studio quite comfortably.

    I feel blessed with freedom! Freedom to live, to parent, to study His Word, and free from a lot of excess housework. I am unimaginably grateful that He has led me down this path, and that we are free from the stuff!

  2. 3

    Kristi says

    You are a blessing Kristen. I agree with some others have said-your thoughts and what is on your heart are so close to mine somedays. Would love to meet you in person someday. I am reading your book right now and feel that for some time I have been in the phase of life you described similarly as, “I know God has something bigger for me on the horizon, but I just don’t know what it is yet.” Just feel it though. He’s preparing my heart for something.

  3. 4

    as says

    While God doesnt despise blessing His people. I said the gospel should work for all. If i cant preacch God is good in a prison cell i cant preach it in the penthouse. God’s bleasings are nottangible but personal each person has a water jug to fill, some require a lot of water some a little. Rich to me was living in Africa with the beautiful sky, great food and lots of freedom. I have felt like im in prison with all my cars and excess clothes and ‘stuff’ gosh i really dont care, other then modern conveniences. But only occasonally do i stress what others have, but a penthouse will never feel like home to me. And hey if thats your thing more power to you. Im not mad.

  4. 5

    Work Inprogress says

    Bummer. Was just thinking, “I need a storage space so I can park my car in the garage!”.

  5. 7

    says

    I completely agree. My family lives a simpler life and has a lot less stuff. People just don’t understand it. Even our families criticize the lack of stuff for our children. But they are better for it. We don’t want to teach them that happiness comes in stuff because it doesn’t. It just leads to a constant need that is never fulfilled–more stuff, better stuff, bigger stuff…it just leads to bigger wants, and not fulfillment.

  6. 8

    Carissa says

    I understand what you are saying, but be careful not to condemn those who do have “stuff”. The way your post is worded twins me if the misquoted “money is the root of all evil”, when it really says “for the love off money is the root of all kinds of evil.” I hardly think those who run yard sales are being materialistic when things are sold for close to nothing. How does your friend feel about putting her on blast like this? A newer van? Ok! Great! Probably safer and more reliable! Land? Fantastic! Grow some gmo, chemical and pesticide free produce for the kids! The reality is, in our country, things cost money. This is not the same environment as where you went over seas. Just because many have nothing, does not mean we should too. It’s the heart and how we live in our world and community for Christ that matters. Land can mean a safe place for friends and kids to run around. We hope to get a little land for the kids so they can have a safe place to run and play. Don’t made judgements without knowing the heart.

    • 8.1

      says

      I don’t think that she is condemning her friend, but questioning the way that her friend used the word “blessed”. It’s wonderful to have our wants and our needs met, but I don’t believe the “prosperity gospel”, that money and material possessions are how God blesses us. I think of Mark 10:25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Having a safe car and land to grow our own produce are certainly wonderful blessings, but they are also challenges in the sense that it’s so easy to cling too tightly to such things. We need to understand that there are blessings much more important than any material object. I think that’s the point of this post.

    • 8.2

      Theresa says

      Sticking the word blessing on every material thing we get is a misuse of the word. That is more the point than her “judging” her friend.

    • 8.3

      Juliette says

      I think you are totally missing the point! This friend she ran into was attaching ONLY material possessions to her happiness. Sure, we all want to have a new car and land for our kids to run around on, but if material things are the only reason a person feels blessed, then there is a problem. A big problem. Happiness needs to come from within, not from a big house or an expensive purse. It sounds as if you struggle with wanting more, yet feeling guilty about it. You took the article to mean the author was condemning her friend, which is totally missing the point!! Her reference to those overseas was just to put a perspective on how some people place too much importance on “stuff”. Yes, things cost money, but money does not equal happiness.
      I think you need to read the article again and put your judgement aside.

    • 8.4

      Juliette says

      Also, proof reading is something you need to look into. I had a hard time trying to figure out what you were trying to say because of the spelling errors

    • 9.1

      Suzanne says

      Well said Carissa. I like the idea of less stuff but judging your “friend” on a blog like that seems kind of mean. Also, I would never stop at a garage sale and preach to someone. They could be selling stuff from a relative that died or has to move into a nursing home. You never know peoples circumstances. I think it would have been better to talk about the positive impact living with less has had on your family instead of pointing out everyone else’s faults especially a friend who confided in you.

  7. 10

    Ann says

    I don’t think she was judging, I think when we use the word blessed just to talk about what stuff we have is what she is saying. Would we all be saying the same thing if we lost it all.

    I know that I have gone through caring for my husband as he was fighting and lost to cancer. I know that the Lord blessed me during this time…and continues! In our first world we complain when the drive through is too long, if we have to wait at the grocery store or what have you…hence the phrase first world problems. This needs to be a reminder to us all that we are blessed with so much more than the stuff that we do let control us, teaching our children that their education is a wonderful privilege that many don’t have, freedom to worship God, attend church…the list of non tangible items goes on and on.

    Kristen thank you for this reminder of what our true blessings are and to really see that we are blessed either with a lot or a little.

  8. 11

    Amy says

    Bigger house. New van. Exclusive summer camp. New Purse. Land. I don’t think that Kristen is saying that anything is necessarily wrong with these things. The problem lies in what is missing. Where are God’s non material blessings in this woman’s life? And the fact that she didn’t mention any of them speaks to her focus. Healthy children. The opportunity to serve. How God is growing her. A Christ centered church home. These are blessings too.
    And although we do not live in a third world country, what are we saying to those who do, if God’s blessings are solely material in nature? Are they not blessed? I agree, they are far more spiritually blessed than most of us who have more than our daily portion.
    I don’t think this blog comes across as judgmental. Kristen did not name names. Nor did she ask anyone to preach at a yard sale. I think this blog is a great reminder to all believers in Christ that our hope is in the eternal and therefore, our focus should not be on the temporary. This is something that I struggle with daily. Thank you.

  9. 12

    Areli says

    Carissa,

    The point of the post is this: “Does aquiring stuff mean you are blessed by God?” In America most people would say yes. In the rest of the world many people consider themselves “blessed” simply because they have Christ. Oddly enough, the latter seems more pure and undefiled.

    If a wealthy non christian has lots of material possessions are they blessed? By the first definition, yes. I have nothing against stuff and I hope Christians and non Christians enjoy their stuff, but God’s blessing is simple: salvation in Christ who sacrificed His life for sin.

    After reading Kristen for years, I can guarantee the names and situation of the encounter with her “friend” were changed.

    Next, she didn’t suggest that we stop and call someone out a garage sale but rather have a discussion in our vehicle with our own family about the danger of pursuing stuff rather than pursuing Christ.

    Lastly, you stated “Don’t make judgements without knowing the heart.” Isn’t that what you are doing to the author? Jesus himself talks of the rich young ruler in Luke 10 who walked away from Christ because he had a large amount of possessions. Jesus said, “wherever your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

    Is Christ your treasure and security or is your own wealth?

  10. 13

    Kara says

    I think it it is also important to think about the origin of our “blessings.” Can products made in unsafe working conditions by people who are not paid a living wage be a blessing? I strongly feel like “every good and perfect gift” cannot come with a human and environmental toll.

  11. 14

    says

    Yes! Our family of four lives in a house that is around 1300 sq. ft. and both my husband and I work from home. We are surrounded by 4,000+ sq. ft. homes. Our children are now a little older and have noticed ‘what others have and what we don’t’ which has been a great opportunity for conversation.

    We have started the “Revolution of Dematerialization” in our house and are making some major changes in our lives to be sure we are living with intention and purpose. (We are also chronicling it.)

    We value time, service and experience over money and things. We want to be sure our children see us walking the walk.

  12. 15

    Britni says

    Thank you for writing this! We are planning a yard sale for this summer and I think we should choose a charity to donate our money to. Thank you for the inspiration!

  13. 16

    brooke says

    Kristen… Thank you for sharing God’s heart and making us all “squirm” a bit. May He be glorified in your life and mine! :)

  14. 17

    says

    We have stuff, but stuff doesn’t have us… A great thought. Thank you.
    I like where you suggested that we try to count our blessings, but take time to count blessings that you cannot buy. Even when the Lord has blessed us with some financial security, we need to recognize that this isn’t the most important blessing He has given us.
    Also, recognizing that stuff is just stuff. A fire could destroy it, but life could go on and we could do it happily. The ability to be happy is the most important blessing, not the stuff.

  15. 18

    Kathy B says

    Thanks for your perspective on blessings and ‘things’. We didn’t have much as our children were growing up but they had each other which, to them, was better than a lot of bought stuff. We had enough to scrape by – feed the family and pay the bills but they never seemed to think they were missing out. I asked them if they wanted me to get a job so they could have ‘more’ but they said, ‘more what?’ We sacrificed so I could stay home with the children and they appreciate that even today. An interesting thing is my son used to spend some of the holidays with my cousins who have a boy his age and are quite well off. I was concerned my son would feel our lack as he stayed in a house of plenty and he said he did a little but not enough to want to change things. He said he found it funny, too, because my cousin’s boy had friends that he was jealous of because they had more than him! I think that, like Paul said, we need to be content in any and every situation. To count our blessings one by one which means counting the small things as blessings as well as the big things. To count the sorrows as well as the joys as blessings. God blesses us all in different ways depending where we are on our journey with Him. I know I’m blessed in having Jesus as my Saviour and a place to rest for all eternity. Have a blessed day, sisters.

  16. 19

    Jamie Stovall says

    Today, we ran to our local thrift store to donate some clothes and other things in an effort to reduce our clutter. While there, we were looking for some teacups to make a bird feeder for my MIL for Mother’s Day. My six year old son kept saying, over and over, “Why do people throw all of this stuff away?” I explained that people donate stuff they no longer need so that frugal people like us can get items for much cheaper than full price and also so that those who don’t have as much money as others still have access to things they need (which is still sort of us with nine kids and one income). And he repeated, “But why do people just throw away their stuff?” He just couldn’t understand it. Pretty powerful lesson for me today.

  17. 20

    says

    Kristen, Your heart is so full and your words so beautiful – both are a blessing to all who read your words. So well stated. Thank you for sharing. <3

  18. 21

    Lisa Woodman says

    I love this! Exactly what is in my head every time I hear it said. A while ago I read a similar article on Huffington Post and I decided that from now on when I would usually be inclined to use the word “blessed” I will now replace it with “thankful” instead. Thankful and not blessed. Even in trying times, I am trying to be thankful and look for the silver lining. Because if we are blessed when things are good, then what does that say about when we think things are bad? It is all relative to the culture and the environment. Most of what 1st world people consider to be bad, people in 3rd world countries would still choose to be thankful for. Choose to be thankful and not blessed, no matter what!
    Here is the link to the other article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-dannemiller/christians-should-stop-saying_b_4868963.html

  19. 22

    Judy says

    Awhile back God began speaking this into my heart when we ran into trouble financially. Up to that point, I figured God was blessing us. But then I discovered the real blessings of God such as peace in the midst of the storm and many others which can’t be bought with money.

  20. 23

    Ben says

    An old quote that I like applies here… “He who has everything and God has no more than he who has God and nothing.”

  21. 24

    Karri says

    Just this past weekend I was toying with how to “bless” my niece and her husband and family who are in Africa and have started an orphanage rescuing thrown away / abandoned babies. I was thinking of having a garage sale, and giving all the monies to that rescue work. I am now praying for a creative idea to connect those to come to our garage sale with this wonderful work of rescue. Please pray that this might really bless and rescue more babies. :)

  22. 26

    says

    Wisdom. Enlightened. Greatly encouraged. Just something about the way you feel being put into words, reading them, that helps to bring us back to the basics of our feelings and our faith.

  23. 27

    says

    Love, love, love your posts and feel blessed that I found someone who is like minded, tells it like it is without hiding, and just has an amazing understanding of God and what He wants for us. My husband and I started to write 10 things we are grateful for every day because one of us was having some trouble with pining for the things we don’t have… I won’t name names ;) We started off with many of the material things we have, but now we are able to focus on much more important things like our day starting off right; having a safe trip to go camping; and decisions that were the right ones:) Blessings come in all shapes and sizes and yes, we tend to focus on the tangible ones. I am trying to see blessings in a similar light as you are and it is so much more fulfilling than anything I could touch and see:) I’m glad you are using God’s gift of writing to share your thoughts and wisdom; it is greatly appreciated.

  24. 28

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