Too Many Treasures?

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Too Many Treasures?

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I'm a devoted "yard saler" and enjoy going to look through other people's cast-offs. I'm often amazed at the items that people no longer want or have room for. I'm especially tempted by the books. Often it doesn't matter that my children already have the same book, or that our own bookcases are bulging and in need of sorting.

Recently I couldn't pass up a book of poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson. As I flipped through it, I remembered memorizing "My Shadow" when I was young. This beautifully illustrated book is a treasure for children! How could I pass it up for just 10 cents!

Little House on the Prairie
As I recounted my find to my family later, I couldn't help but think what a real treasure the book would have been for the average family 100 years ago. I thought of the Little House series of books Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her family. Perhaps you remember reading those books or seeing the television show many years ago. I remembered that the Ingalls family had only one book, other than the Bible. That book about the wonders of the animal world was treasured by the Ingalls.

Also treasured was Ma's porcelain shepherdess figurine. Ma carefully carried it in their pioneering journeys. The family knew they were home when Ma would place the shepherdess on the mantle. Then there was Charlotte, Laura's beloved rag doll with black yarn hair and shoe button eyes. Charlotte replaced Laura's old "doll," a dried corn cob wrapped in a rag.

The Ingalls family, like so many other families of past times, had few possessions. But they treasured the things that they had.

Sometimes, I must confess, I feel somewhat envious of Ma and Laura. No, I guess I don't really want to live in a log cabin, with my bedroom also my dining room, living room and kitchen. And I don't want to have so few dishes that if we have company my children would need to share a cup.

And yet, I still envy that love that Ma had for her porcelain shepherdess. I have many decorative items in my home, but not a one that I treasure so much that I hand-carried it to our new home when we moved last year.

Could having too many things actually contribute to a lack of satisfaction?

Today we can have so many things that they sometimes just get in the way! (Hence the yard sales to try to clear out the clutter.) We have so many things, and yet we have a hard time not acquiring more. It's a unique time in history! While we may not have the jewels and lands owned by royalty of previous centuries, we have possessions that only royalty or the very wealthy could have had in the past. We have so much that it becomes like trash to us! And even while we have so much, there's always a "need" to do more shopping, a need to have more or better.

Sometimes the possessions themselves can become a problem. I'm reminded of a movie from the early '80s called The Gods Must Be Crazy. The story took place in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa where few people lived except the diminutive Bushmen. They lived happily together getting all their needs from the land and animals around them.

And then one day someone in a plane overhead threw out a Coke bottle. The bush people had never had such a hard thing before and considered it a gift from the gods. Virtually everyone found it useful and fun. The children enjoyed making sounds by blowing over top of it. An elderly lady found it useful in smoothing leather. A mother found it could be used to roll out dough. The only problem--the reason the gods must have been crazy--was that there was just one bottle. Soon fights broke out and arguments developed. When at last there was an injury, the people agreed that the bottle had to go! They decided they would rather be without this wonderful possession than have it cause unhappiness and discord.

What a wonderful example of contentment!

I sit here trying to think of what items around me I value the most. Years ago we lived in California and had friends who lost their home to a brush-fire. They had no opportunity to save anything. When it was safe to return, they sorted through the ash and debris hoping there might be something left. The most precious thing they hoped to find? A photograph of their sons, then already grown. That year, even though I knew our home was not in danger of a wild fire, I kept a close eye on my own photo albums, making plans to grab them if an emergency arose.

Perhaps that's what I value most. Family photos certainly are irreplaceable, since I can't have my daughters go back to being babies, small toddlers, etc. And yet it's not really the photographs that I treasure as much as the memories each one brings back. And the memories are not nearly as precious as my daughters are themselves, in real life (wind-blown hair, smudged faces, sticky hands and all). They are far more precious than any possession, and yet they are something that I don't possess! They'll grow up, leave home, experience life apart from me and have their own families!

I was discussing my thoughts about things and the human tendency to always want more with my daughter, Heather. We reminisced about the Little House books, and then talked about Solomon's observation that the person who loves abundance will not be satisfied no matter how much increase he gets. And, of course, Christ warned us, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15).

I asked Heather what she thought was the solution to the more-things-less-satisfaction tendency. Her response was wise beyond her 10 years: "People need to have God be their most precious possession." Later, she decided to join me in putting her thoughts into writing. Let me share one paragraph:

"We were all created by God, and are more special than Laura or Ma could ever imagine. But He expects Himself and His love to be present in the hearts of people everywhere, as our most treasured and prized possession. No fancy bedspread or new stove could ever make us happier."

Out of the mouths of babes...