July Dinner Discussions

I’m sitting in my newly rearranged living room. I got a new desk and bookshelf yesterday, and I love it. In the past month, we’ve bought more furniture than we’ve bought in the entire 16 years we’ve been married. Up until this point, we’ve made do with a lot of hand-me downs and discount store furniture. And we’re still using a lot of it.

As I sit in my chair, I’m looking at my couch and chair. We are the third generation of my family to use this furniture. Neither is super comfortable, but I look at those pieces of furniture, and I’m always reminded of the connection to my family. It helps to make me content.

My new desk and bookshelf don’t match the older furniture all that well. They definitely give the room an eclectic look. And as happy as I am with them, I know that at some point in the near future, I’ll walk into someone else’s house, see someone else’s living room and lose my contentment with what I have. It won’t matter that my furniture reminds me of family. It won’t matter that my bookshelf and desk are perfect for my needs. All that will matter is that my living room doesn’t look like it came out of a Pottery Barn catalog. Contentment is that easy to lose.

All last week, we talked about contentment in our Learning to Be Content series. Because contentment is something that I don’t think we ever completely learn, this month’s dinner discussions are all about contentment, envy and joy. My prayer is that as you use these questions to spark your dinnertime conversations that your family will take to heart Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

By keeping the focus on contentment for an entire month, we can learn the roots of jealousy, the desires of our hearts and how to learn to be content. It’s not an easy process, and it’s always an ongoing one. But contentment is something we can learn and teach to our children. And the first step is getting the conversation started.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife, Growing Home, and A Pause on the Path.

Strategies for Teaching Contentment

The gift shop was closed.

We had spent a fun day at an exotic animal farm bed and breakfast in central Kansas (I know, it’s an odd place for exotic animals). We had fed giraffes, petted kangaroos, heard a macaw say hello and ridden a camel. But all of that enjoyment was sucked away because the gift shop was closed.

My girls really wanted T-shirts to take home with them, and had the gift shop been open, we probably would have gotten them each one. But it wasn’t. It was closed, and it wasn’t going to open before we left. And our joy and contentment was gone.

It could have been a teachable moment. Yep, it could have been. But after wandering around in 100-degree heat for an hour and knowing that we still had six hours together in the car ahead of us, this mommy missed the teachable moment and went for the grumpy one. I essentially told my kids to “get over it.”

Funny how we’re talking about contentment this week, and I missed a perfect opportunity to teach my kids about being content. All they took away from that exchange was “we didn’t get we wanted and mom’s in a bad mood.”

So, in our better moments as parents, how do we teach our kids to be content — with who God made them to be, with the stuff they have and with the circumstances in their lives?

It starts with us. You’ve probably noticed that most of the posts about contentment this week haven’t included a lot about teaching your kids to be content. That’s because we have to learn contentment before we can teach it to our kids. This is one of those things that is more often caught than taught. So, if contentment is a struggle for you (and I think it is for most of us), now is the time to begin working on it. As you teach your kids, be honest with them about your struggles with being content. Knowing that you struggle will help your kids to know how difficult it is and make them more willing to open up about their struggles.

Give your kids a broader view. Help your kids understand that not everyone in the world lives like they do. Get them serving those who are less fortunate in your community. Work at a food pantry, organize a book drive or help out an after-school program. Our kids need to see people in need to understand what “having enough” really means.

Cultivate thankful hearts. Make thankfulness second nature. Ask your kids what they’re thankful for on a regular basis. Keep a thankfulness journal or bulletin board, where everyone writes down the things they are thankful for. When your kids get the “gimmes” or have hearts full of discontent, have them make a list of the things for which they are thankful. There’s no room for discontent in a heart full of thankfulness.

Have a contentment code word. Create a “code” word with your kids that you can use to remind each other to be content. Let your kids use it to remind you not to grumble, and you use it to remind them to be content with what they have. Make it something fun and appropriate that only you will know.

Memorize Philippians 4:8 as a family. Talk about the fact that contentment is something we can learn with God’s help. Remind your kids that when they feel discontent, they need to ask God to help them learn to be content no matter the circumstances.

We can all use help learning to be content. Use teaching your kids about contentment as an opportunity for you to learn contentment as well. When we support each other as a family, our entire family grows together. Put contentment on at the top of the list of things to learn together.

Being Content With What You Have

A bigger house. A newer car. Nicer clothes. More vacations. These are the longings of many of our hearts. We look around and we see what our friends and neighbors have. And we want more. We want what they have. We want to be thinner, smarter, better looking and younger. We want what we don’t have.

Have you ever watched a two-year-old play? If there is another child in the room playing with a different toy, the two-year-old will inevitably want what the other child has — and he probably won’t be shy about taking it. We’re not all that far removed from that two-year-old. Oh, we’re nicer about it. We probably won’t take it from our friend. But we want it. And sometimes we let it consume us.

When I was pregnant with our younger daughter, I wanted to move. It wasn’t so much that I wanted a bigger house, I just wanted one that had a better layout for our needs. My friends all agreed, but my husband didn’t. I pushed the issue until my husband agreed to put our house on the market. But when we had an offer on the table, my husband looked at me and said, “I’m not ready to do this.” My discontent had pushed my husband into something he didn’t want to do. And his reaction pushed our marriage to a difficult place. All rooted in discontent.

Always wanting more is dangerous, and it can be disastrous. It takes the focus off of God’s provision and puts it squarely on our wants and desires. There’s nothing wrong with having a new house or a new car, but when the desire for those things becomes all-consuming, there’s no place for God to work.

So, how do we decide that enough is enough? How do we back out of this race for more that we call the American dream?

Start by looking beyond your corner of the world. If you own a car and a house, you are among the richest people in the world. You are the 1%. Because we so often live in places where everyone else is just like us, our perspective is skewed. We forget that there are people who don’t get enough to eat, who don’t have a closet full of clothes, who don’t even have clean water to drink. When we begin to look at ourselves in relation to the rest of the world, we realize just how blessed we are, and we can rid ourselves of the seeds of discontent.

Decide when enough is enough. Set limits on how much you’re willing to spend on chasing stuff. Then put those resources to work helping those with less than you. For example, decide how long you will drive your cars before you replace them. If you’re a person who replaces their car every three years, try driving it for five. Use the extra money to sponsor a child or buy food for a local food pantry.

Stop comparing. The roots of discontentment start in comparison. We see others who have more, and we want more. Generally, we’re not unhappy with what we have until we see what others have. Ask God to help you stop comparing yourself to others. Ask Him to make it the desire of your heart to become more like Jesus, not more like your neighbor.

Make contentment your goal. Actively chase contentment. Count your blessings. Don’t make impulse purchases. Make do with what you have. Learn to be content. Make it an everyday pursuit.

We often think that having more stuff will bring us happiness, but wealth doesn’t always mean an end to our problems. Solomon was the richest man in the world, but he had this to say in Ecclesiastes 4:8: “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.”

Stuff doesn’t bring contentment. It often leads to the desire for more stuff. Being content doesn’t mean we never get anything new. It doesn’t mean we stop trying to be healthy or educated. It simply means that those things don’t become the all-consuming focus of our lives. It means we don’t let stuff take God’s rightful place as the No. 1 thing in our lives. It means we simply know when enough is enough. It means we control our stuff; it doesn’t control us.

Are you content with what you have or do you need to gain a new perspective?

Contentment is Learned

I remember when my kids took those first steps. After weeks of holding their hands and encouraging them to walk, they finally took that first toddling step on their own. I also remember teaching them to ride a bike and how to read. I could teach them those things because I knew how to do them.

I also remember trying to teach my younger daughter how to do a hockey stop. It was frustrating for both her and me. Why? Because I can’t do a hockey stop. All I could do was tell her what I had heard other people tell her. I couldn’t demonstrate it. I couldn’t tell her what it felt like. I couldn’t tell her what she was doing wrong. It was an exercise in frustration for both of us.

We can’t teach our kids something that we haven’t learned ourselves. If we haven’t learned to be content, then we can’t expect our kids to learn to be content. Yesterday, we talked about the fact that contentment is a choice. When we choose to be content, we are choosing to learn to be content no matter the circumstances.

Paul says this in Philippians 4:12-13: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The secret to learning to be content in all situations is to rely on God for the strength to do so.

So, how do we learn contentment? How do we stop striving for more all the time and enjoy what we have — whether it be tangible like cars and houses or intangible like talents and health?

1. Ask God to help. Being content whatever our circumstances goes against human nature. We like to complain and grumble. It seems to be a constant of human nature. To overcome that desire, we have to have God’s help.

2. Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t. No matter our circumstances, we have things in our lives for which to be grateful. It may be that we need to be content with the weather on a beautiful day, the ability to get out of bed in the morning or the love of our family. Find reasons to be grateful and content.

3. Stop comparing your circumstances to other people’s circumstances. Comparison is the fastest way to kill contentment. Make it a point to stop comparing what you have to what others have. When you find yourself caught in the comparison trap, make a conscious decision to choose to be content with what you have.

4. Cultivate a heart of gratitude. Create a thankfulness wall or journal in your home. Every day, write down something for which you are thankful. It’s hard to be envious of others when you’re focused on your own blessings.

We can’t teach our kids to be content unless we have learned it ourselves. Spend some time today relying on God to give you the strength to be content — no matter what your circumstances are.

Linking up today with Women Living Well , A Wise Woman Builds Her Home and Word Filled Wednesday.

What is Contentment?

My 9-year-old daughter sat on the couch, reading the books she had bought yesterday. She was enjoying the bargain book “Extreme Deadly Creatures.” (Yes, we have some interesting reading taste in our house.) She was perfectly content — until her older sister decided to count her money. This led to a comparison of how much money each child had saved — and contentment flew out the window.

Why is it so hard to be content with what we have? I think it’s because, many times, we don’t understand what contentment is. I often think we want contentment to just fall on us like a blanket. We want it to just come out of nowhere and fill us up. The problem is contentment doesn’t work like that.

Because contentment is a choice.

It is a learned behavior. It isn’t something that just falls from the sky or just happens. It takes effort on our part. Paul had this to say about contentment: “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). We have to learn to be content.

Contentment isn’t happiness. We can’t control whether we feel happy or not. Happy is an emotion. It simply happens. The word happy comes from the same word root as the word happenstance, which is just another fancy word for circumstances. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances. Contentment is not. We can feel content despite our circumstances.

Dictionary.com defines the word content as “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” We are content when we can say, “I have enough.” When we look around our homes and at ourselves, and we don’t want anything more, then we are content.

Contentment doesn’t mean we stop following after Christ to become more like Him. It doesn’t mean that we’re satisfied to stop growing. It doesn’t mean that we stop trying to lose that weight we need to lose or earning that college degree we want to earn. It simply means that other than following after Jesus, those things do not become the source of our ability to be content.

Contentment means that if the scale goes up instead of down one week, we don’t feel like a failure. If we get a D instead of an A on a test, we don’t lose our perspective. If our kids throw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, we don’t lose our peace of mind because of it.

Being content means we find our joy and our contentment in who we are in Christ, not in the things we own or the way we look or the achievements we’ve accomplished. Contentment comes from God, not from our circumstances.

When we understand what contentment is, we can begin to learn how to be content in any circumstance. Take a minute to examine your understanding of contentment and if you need to, change the way you think about what it means to be content.

All this week, Everyday Truth is focusing on contentment. If you missed the first part of the series, you can find it here. Don’t miss tomorrow’s post when we talk about Contentment is Learned.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife, Growing Home, and A Pause on the Path.

Learning to Be Content Series

We’re having vacation envy around our house. My girls’ best friends just found out they’re going to Orlando to go to Universal Studios in the fall, and my girls (and I) are struggling with jealousy. It’s not that we haven’t been to Orlando. We have. We’ve just never been to Universal Studios. And it’s been four years since we went on a big family vacation.

We’ve got a beautiful new basement. We’ve been on a bunch of smaller trips. We get to eat out about once a week. We have two cars. We have more clothes than we can wear. Yet, we’re still struggling with envy. We’re still struggling to be content with what we have.

Contentment is a tough thing. It’s a choice. And it’s a hard one. In the culture that we live in where everyone seems to have everything, it’s sometimes tough to not look at our neighbors and friends and want what they have. It doesn’t seem to matter that we have more than 98% of the world. In the moment, all that matters is that we don’t have what someone that we know has.

I think that learning to be content and teaching our kids to be content is one of the hardest things to do. How do we teach something that we struggle with so much ourselves? That’s why we’re going to spend every day this week talking about contentment. Join me this week for our Learning to Be Content series. Here’s the line-up for the week. You won’t want to miss a day:

Monday: Introduction

Tuesday: What is Contentment?

Wednesday: Contentment is Learned

Thursday: Being Content with What You Have

Friday: Strategies for Teaching Contentment

Contentment is an important character quality for us to have and for us to teach. When we stop striving to gain more and to have things just because everyone else has them, we can focus on the things God wants us to focus on. When we are striving to gain things, tangible or intangible, we take our focus off of God. We become consumed by things that are not from God. 1 Timothy 6:6 says “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

And that’s what I want. Godliness with contentment leading to great gain. If that’s what you want too, leave me a comment to let me know you’re joining me for this series. Then share this with your friends so they can join us, too. Let’s learn to be content so we and our kids can focus on the things of God rather than our own desires.

 

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.

Mom Envy

I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s blogs. I come away with some good ideas for my own blog, some awe at other people’s talents and, unfortunately, a good bit of envy. I see what other people do, and I think, “Why can’t I do that?” I see other bloggers with thousands of Facebook likes and wonder, “Why don’t I reach that many people?” There are days when looking at other people’s blogs leaves me feeling like a small, insignificant fish in the big ocean of the Internet.

I end up feeling this way because I start comparing myself to others. I forget the mission that God called me to and get jealous of someone else’s mission. Envy is the death of many a calling. We begin to compare ourselves to others, feel insignificant and give up on what God has called us to do — just because we don’t think we’re doing it as well as someone else.

I think women, and especially moms, are prone to this. On a morning when everything goes wrong — the hairbrush got stuck in the gum in our child’s hair, breakfast was a granola bar and an Oreo and we left the house wearing one black sock and one blue one — is the morning we’ll run into a friend who appears to have it all together. Her kids arrive at school in clean, unwrinkled, matching clothes, she looks like she stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine and is even wearing make-up and she had time to stop by Starbucks on the way to dropping her kids off at school early. We leave our encounter with our friend feeling like a failure, thinking “Why can’t I be like that?” We’ve all been to a playdate or the park and looked around at the children playing nicely — laughing and sharing — as our child throws his fifth temper tantrum of the day and wondered, “Why can’t my kids be more like that?”

Comparison is dangerous. We compare our situation to someone else’s without knowing anything about the other person’s situation. That perfectly coifed mom up at school might look that way because she’s on her way to a funeral. Those happy, sharing kids on the playground may have thrown so many temper tantrums that morning that their moms took them to the park to get a break. All we see is one piece of a situation; we have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.

Learning from other moms can help us in parenting our own kids. We can get some great ideas by watching others parent. We can learn how to deal with different situations and how to be creative in our parenting. When that learning turns into comparing and that comparing into envy is when we get in trouble.

God warns us against envy very early in the Bible. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” You might not want your neighbor’s wife, servants or oxen, but you might want another mom’s composure, patience or creativity. All envy does is eat up your soul until you feel like a failure. And that’s not what God wants for you.

God chose you to be the parent of your children. He put you exactly where you are because He knew that you would be the best parent for your child. He wants us to learn from each other and support each other. He wants us to pray for one another and share the joys and trials of parenting with one another. But He doesn’t want us to compare ourselves to each other. He wants envy out of the picture because He knows it destroys our sense of self-worth and our confidence.

When you begin to compare yourself to another parent, stop yourself. Remind yourself of the things you do well. Remind yourself that no one except God can love your kids more than you. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and ask God to remind you of what makes you an exceptional parent for your child.

When we stop comparing ourselves to others, we can fulfill our calling to love and guide our children. We can confidently step out on the path that God has laid out for us without trying to find a road that leads to someone else’s path. And that’s the best way we can parent our kids — by staying on the road that God has asked us to travel.

 Linking up today with Women Living Well.

Trumpet Envy

We have a case of trumpet envy going on in our house. This is the first year my oldest daughter can play in the band. She’s never played an instrument before and decided she wanted to play the trumpet.

My husband played the trumpet, so we had an old one in our basement. It’s not the prettiest trumpet in the world. It has some bumps and dings, and the valve slides are a bit sticky. But it works, and it’s paid for.

My daughter was happy with her trumpet and excited at the prospect of getting to play her dad’s instrument. Until everyone else opened their trumpet cases in band yesterday.

Last night at dinner our daughter was telling us how ugly her trumpet was compared to everyone else’s. Everyone else has a shiny, new trumpet. She told us how much she wished her trumpet was shiny and new, too.

Until yesterday, my daughter was thrilled with her trumpet. But the minute she compared her trumpet to everyone else’s trumpet, her excitement about her instrument faded. She let envy strip her of joy.

Envy is one of those emotions that hurts the person feeling it the most. I think that’s why God made it one of the 10 Commandments. He knew how destructive it can be. Proverbs 14:30 says “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” That’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an accurate one.

Envy eats away at us. It steals our contentment and our joy. Nothing good ever comes from envy. It destroys relationships and causes us to make poor choices. Envy can leave us in financial ruin.

Learning to avoid the envy trap is important to maintaining our joy. When envy rears its ugly head in your household, be wise and get rid of it quickly — before it has time to rot the bones.

  • Counteract envy by counting your blessings. When one of your kids is envious of something another person has, take a minute to help them count their own blessings. Ask them to list five things that they do have for which they are thankful. It’s hard to have a thankful heart and an envious one at the same time.
  • Talk about the difference between envy and desire. It’s OK to want something; that’s desire. It’s not OK to want something so badly that we are unhappy when someone else has it; that’s envy. We all have things that we would like to have. It’s when that wanting crosses the line to unhappiness that we are letting envy get the upper hand.
  • Take a piece of bread and let it sit out until it gets moldy. Show the bread to your kids. Explain that envy is like that mold. The mold takes over the bread until eventually there’s nothing left of the bread. Envy can take hold in our hearts and take over until there’s no room for anything else.

Envy is a destructive and useless emotion. It steals joy. It hurts relationships. And it takes over our lives.

As my daughter walks out the door with trumpet in hand today, I’ll be reminding her of all the beautiful music her trumpet has already made, hoping to slay the envy dragon before it takes hold.

What shards of envy do you need to pluck out of your family’s life today?

Memory Monday: Proverbs 14:30

I spent the weekend with my oldest daughter and six other fourth-grade girls at Worlds of Fun, our local amusement park. The theme for the weekend was respect, and we spent time learning the 10 commandments. As we were talking about the 10 commandments, I realized that most of the girls in my group did not know what the word envy meant. As soon as I described it, one of the girls piped up and said “That’s like when I got some colored pencils and my friend had to go out and get a box that had even more in it.” It didn’t take long for the other girls to chime in with their own examples.

This morning I ran across Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” I love the visual that this verse gives us about how destructive envy can be. I think envy is something that kids struggle with almost constantly. There’s always someone who has more or is better at something than your child.

My girls have TV envy. According to them, we are the last household on the planet to still have a TV that looks like a box. No, we have not yet joined the flat-screen revolution in this house. Every time we go in a store that has TVs, the girls have to go look at them and talk about how much cooler they are than our TV. Any time they go to someone else’s house, they let us know all about the TV that the other kid has. Despite the fact that we have good reasons for not upgrading  our TV at this time, our girls continue to envy other kids who have flat-screen TVs.

Today’s verse offers a great way to create a visual picture for your kids about what envy can do. Take a peach or other soft fruit and set it in a plastic container in the window sill. Leave it there for a few days until it starts to decay. Show your kids how the decay starts as a small spot on the peach, but it slowly takes over the whole thing until it is a rotten, smelly, disgusting thing. Read Proverbs 14:30 and talk about how envy can take over our minds to the point of pushing everything else out. Remind them of the queen in the Snow White fairy tale who was so jealous of Snow White that she wanted to kill her. Talk about how envy can cause us to do things that we might not otherwise even consider.

Don’t leave out the first part of the verse, either. Talk with your kids about what they think a heart at peace looks like. Ask them why they think God contrasted a heart at peace with one full of envy. Ask your kids if there are things that they envy about others. Pray with them and help them to turn those things over to God. Ask God to fill your hearts with peace, so that your bodies will be full of life. Show your kids how to capture their envious thoughts and replace them with this verse. Tell them that every time they feel jealous of someone else, they should give that thought to God and say Proverbs 14:30 to give themselves something else on which to focus.

As you learn this verse this week, I pray that you and your children will have bodies full of life and that you will leave bone-rotting envy behind.