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Friday, 30 October 2009

ARE MATERIAL THINGS YOUR ONLY JOY?

My sister has just returned from an extended trip to Bangladesh. She tells of appalling poverty and all its attendant problems- lack of adequate safe drinking water, beggars on the streets, lepers and ill people simply lying down where they fall in the street, waiting to die, as they can not afford to be treated by a doctor. Yet she tells me, the people she got to know have a joy and exuberance for life that is infectious. She was often a guest at their homes- homes they were immensely proud of, yet by our standards, were not even fit to be a chicken coup. Just bits of corrugated iron standing against a building wall or a rickety hut on stilts and built on the edge of a sewerage infected river.

Now I certainly wouldn’t want to have to live like that. But then I wasn’t born in a third-world country. I have choices that can make my life more enjoyable. But what if I didn’t? What would I be like if I lost all my possessions? Do I cling tightly to my possessions to the point that they have become my source of happiness and well-being? I am sure I would miss my possessions- but losing them wouldn’t put me in such a tail-spin that I couldn’t recover my sense of well-being and joy of life. Many people cling so closely to the myriad of possessions they have and get so involved in accumulating more and maintaining it that it does become their sense of identity and joy. Life is more than possessions.

I believe that God calls us to be good stewards of our finances, home and possessions. But if ever we find that our happiness and fulfillment comes from them, then we are in danger of becoming idolatrous. I am sure we can think of many people whose whole life is wrapped up in their home, clothing, cars and so on. Their whole life’s purpose is to accumulate more and maintain it to the exclusion of all else. Including God. They have not realised that our identity is in who we are in Christ, not who we are in designer clothes, fast cars and huge houses. If we exclude all else then we are in danger of losing ourselves and the joy of living with just what we need. Because materialism and accumulating possessions grows into greed and discontentment. We never have enough.

The people of Bangladesh have nothing, but have learned through necessity that true happiness is not found in possessions. They have channeled their energies into building a strong network of support in family and friends. For the little they do have, they are grateful and happy. Would we be as grateful if we had little worldly possessions? I am sure most of us wouldn’t be.

As lovely as all our labour saving devices, leisure toys, our beautiful clothing and palatial homes are (I say palatial because even the smallest apartment would be a palace to impoverished Bangladeshi people), we must guard against making them our primary source of happiness and identity. World events recently have shown how quickly we can have these things snatched from us. If we have clutched these things too tightly to ourselves, and have placed our happiness in materialism’s hands and not God’s, then we are in for a very rough ride if something deprives us of them.

Saint Paul has said that he has learnt to be happy in plenty and in lack. It is a very profound statement. The question we should ask ourselves is: have we? And if we honestly find that we can’t be happy in lack, then we should do some honest soul searching! Happiness should not be wrapped up in our abundance of things, but firstly in our salvation and then in our network of family and friends. It is not wrong to have possessions in abundance. But it is wrong to place one’s self-esteem, identity and happiness in its pursuit.

Can we still sing a song of praise to God amidst lack or loss of our worldly possessions? It is a question worth asking ourselves: and it’s one only we can answer. May you find that you can answer truthfully and say that material things are not your only source of happiness and be able to declare as Saint Paul:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” Philippians 4:11-12


© Glenys Robyn Hicks

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:34

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