Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19-21-24
Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. Jesus said it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. I ignore this, thinking it doesn’t apply to me, because I’m not rich. Right?
But then I look around my house. It’s pretty large and we are only a family of 4. It’s stuffed with all our stuff: I have nearly as many books as the library closest to us. My husband has enough tools to stock the local Home Depot (practically). My daughter has 4 American Girl dolls (ridiculous, I know). My son has practically every John Deere or Thomas and Friends toy ever made. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We are never hungry (despite the number of times my children come to me claiming that they are “starving”). In fact, we probably throw out more food than families in some countries get in a week. We have two cars, two lawnmowers, a giant wooden play structure in the backyard, and a completely obscene number of shoes. Let’s face it, we are rich.
You may remember in the last couple of years hearing a lot about the “99%” and how, supposedly, the majority of the United States is just “regular folks” who have to deal with the mistakes of the 1% (the “rich folks”). I’m not about to start a conversation about all that, except to say: shut up. So, yes, I am squarely in the 99% in the United States. But if you look at the world, I’m way up in the 1%. In fact, virtually all Americans are. So we’re rich: you, me, your next door neighbor. Rich.
So, now back to that whole “it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” thing. I recently read a fantastic book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. (It is so good. You should read it. But only if you are willing to take a hard look at your life, because she will make you. And you’ll hate her for it. But then you’ll love her.) There is one section where Jen talks about an incident with her children and fish fillets for dinner and finding them thrown away because of a lack of ketchup for dipping. Oh I have been there. Anyway, she talks about this as a moment of realization for just how much her kids have, just how easy they have it. She says, “How can we extract our children from this filthy engine where indulgence and ignorance and ungratefulness and waste are standard protocol?” She then goes on to describe weeping for her children “who will battle American complacency and overindulgence for the rest of their lives.”
And that whole section just got me. Because, you know what? They are learning these behaviors from me. I’m the one who loads up the grocery cart every week, with much more than we could possibly eat, and then lets leftovers rot in the back of the refrigerator. I’m the one who has taught them to expect a mound of presents for Christmas, Birthdays, Easter, Valentine’s Day and every other tiny holiday that we could possibly celebrate. (For more on holiday insanity, read this excellent article.) My children weren’t born overindulged and entitled, I MADE THEM THAT WAY.
But now that my eyes are being opened to this craziness, how do I change it? How do I convince my parents and in laws and sisters that my kids don’t need so many gifts at Christmas time? How do I set limits on myself when my tendency is to give them everything they’ve ever wanted because I want to “show them how much I love them.” How do we possible transform from a family of get’ers to a family of givers?
Oh, Lord, please show me the way because right now I’m having a hard time picturing a way out of the status quo. Teach me, Lord, because we’re camels who desperately want to make it through the eye of that needle.