September 21, 2009

'Tis the Gift, Part 2

"Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred."

One of the great lessons of Proverbs 15.17 is that you don’t need to have a lot on your plate (literally or figuratively) in order to be happy. Love for God and man will do quite nicely if you want a happy life. And that means that there may be great value in being intentional about not having to have the fattened ox – even if you can afford it. There is value in having a lifestyle and schedule that look more like a simple plate of steamed vegetables than like the buffet at Golden Corral. Simplicity and contentment are important biblical virtues – and ones that, in our culture, we are not very good at.

Do you remember what it was like when you were young, and just getting started in life? Maybe when you got your first apartment, or first car? Or perhaps when you first got married? Your furniture was mix and match. Your car didn’t have any of the accessories that now seem so indispensible. You only had one TV. You had to really be careful with your monthly budget. And do you know what? I’ll bet that some of you look back on those days with fond memories. They were good days. Life was simple. You didn’t have much. But you didn’t need much. Sure, you couldn’t afford the fattened ox. Maybe you (like me) took Ramen noodles to work with you every day. You only had a little. But you had love. You had real friends. And, because life was so much simpler, you actually had time to spend with them! And you were happy.

I don’t remember, to give a personal example, if Tobey and I ever had a happier Christmas than our first one as a married couple. We didn’t have any Christmas decorations – and couldn’t afford any. All we had money for was a $19.95 tree from Home Depot … but no lights or ornaments. So I used the Paint program on Microsoft Windows and hand-drew (with the talent of an 8-year-old) some angels, some stars, and some Christmas bells. Then we printed them, cut them out, and taped them onto the shiny side of some old CD-Rom’s and used the holes in the middle of the discs to hang our ‘ornaments’ on the tree.
We were so proud! It wasn’t the prettiest tree we ever had (as I am sure you can tell ... and will comment on below!). But we were together! And Christmas was really about Christ!

These days, Christmas decoration is always a mess. Ornaments break. I get tangled up in the lights. And it’s always a big fiasco that ends with me having to apologize. And I wonder, sometimes, if it wouldn’t be better to just go back to the old, simple way we did it at first.

And you may wonder that about various pockets of your own life. Things used to be so much simpler … and, perhaps, happier. What happened? Somewhere along the line you stopped being content with less; with “a dish of vegetables” so to speak. Somewhere along the line the “fattened ox” became more and more appealing and (seemingly) necessary … and “love” (perhaps for God as well as man) began, first, to be assumed, and eventually to be pushed, ever so slightly, to the side. You didn’t actually intend to become unloving. But somehow there was just less time and energy to put into your spouse, your kids, your friends, and your Bible. After all, it's a lot of work fattening up whatever particular “ox” has become so important to you.

But Solomon would have us know that it’s not too late to go back. It’s not too late to get rid of some of the gadgets; to cut some things out of the schedule so that your family is actually home together more than two nights a week; to cancel the cable or scale back to one TV; to stop spending so much time, money, and energy on things you don’t really need … and won’t even want in a year’s time. It’s not too late to learn (and apply) the importance of simplicity and contentment.


Jeremiah Mattingly said...

Wise words, Kurt. For me, I’ve noticed that the multiple responsibilities (& even blessings) that I have in life (wife & children, full-time job, serving in the Church, taking care of the house) can lead to a multiplicity of tasks that can easily drown out God’s word. I realize this is not a problem that is unique to me. I often think of the thorny-ground soil (though I think it’s probably referring to an unbeliever). The cares of this life are a constant temptation to forget where my true joy lies. The simplicity of reading the word of God in the evening with my family is often the highlight of my day. That’s what I need- more than a fatted calf.

Jeremiah Mattingly said...

Oh yeah, that's not a bad angel for MS Paint!

One of my fondest memories in me & my wife’s early years was related to our first apartment and our dryer. Oh yes, it was cool because we had a dryer hookup (and so I felt compelled to save up and buy a dryer). However, there was no dryer vent in the apartment (?), so you had to buy about 20 feet of dryer vent hose and run it across the kitchen and out the 2nd story window every time you did laundry! It was awesome though and we just got used to stepping over it when walking down the hallway. But there was (and is) joy in our home!