I went to the mailbox today in search of something inspiring. Maybe a real-hand-written letter. A Christmas card from a friend with an update of how his family is doing.
Instead, I got the usual. A few bills. Junk mail. And a bunch of catalogs.
And that’s where my rant begins.
Of the items mentioned above, the most problematic are the catalogs. We receive no less than 3-5 per day. While my complaint is the weight and waste, Gabby’s beef is that she has to call every one of these companies to cancel the catalogs. Though neither one of us knows why we started getting, say, ‘Macramé Madness”, Gabby still has to call the wild and wacky crafters and justify why she doesn’t want to receive their monthly “Craptacular” savings magazine (Oops! Typo! It should read “Craftacular”).
That being said, I did find myself quite interested in one catalog that arrived a few weeks ago. It is simply titled “Solutions: Products That Make Life Easier.” Now THAT’S something I can get into! I opened to page one, hoping to find numerous products that would “make my life easier” as promised in the title. For instance:
- “TidyTurf”: Dog-Poo Absorbing Grass
- “BuffStuff” Exercise substitute pill.
- “HubbyBuddy Millennium Edition”: Gives automatic correct response to wife’s questions such as “How did our daughter get that mark on her face?”
Unfortunately, as I leafed through the pages, I couldn’t find a single one of these products. Instead, I found a lot of false and misleading advertising. The vast majority of the products actually make life harder. The prosecution presents its evidence (and I’m not making this stuff up):
Stair Rugs ($24.50 each): These things are little “ruglets” that you place on each individual step on a flight of stairs. Now you can worry about 73 of these little guys staying in place, and then wash each one individually when they get soiled. Or, you can cut down on the washing by telling people to avoid stepping on them. There’s nothing upstairs worth seeing anyhow.
Baking Soda Keeper ($5.00): A clear plastic box to hold your baking soda. No, you don’t pour the baking soda out of its original box, you simply set the baking soda box INSIDE the second box, or “Keeper”, if you will. The Keeper also has a ventilated lid, so you can keep the open box of baking soda inside an open plastic box. Kinda’ reminds me of my last trip to Target where I bought a bag, and the cashier put it in a plastic bag so I could carry it out of the store. Am I taking crazy pills?
Large Clear Plastic Box ($24.50): And I quote, “Large bulk food container holds up to 22 pounds of cereal” 22 POUNDS! Who needs to store 22 pounds of cereal!? Apparently the target market for this catalog is individuals who live in nuclear fallout shelters. I am stressing out just thinking about having to eat that much of ANYTHING, even if it is Cookie Crisp. The picture in the catalog shows the box filled brim-full with colorful Trix. When the cereal is not being eaten, the whole kit-and-kaboodle doubles as the “Ball Pit” at Chuck-E-Cheese.
Paw Step Ramp w/ Extension ($159.00): This is a carpeted ramp that you put beside your bed so that your dog can easily get in and steal the covers. The side of the ramp is hard plastic, perfect for stubbing toes when you get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Such newfound ramp-climbing skills would only encourage my dog to join the circus. Then, it’s nothing but sleepless nights hoping he doesn’t run off to Vegas with the dancing bear or, worse yet, the half-person-half-wolf lady. $159.00 price does not include doggie prenuptial agreement or counseling.
I threw the catalog into our large-cardboard-box-turned-recycling-bin. But I was sad. A small part of me wanted to believe that little catalog really did have answers for me. And it did.
As I threw the catalog into our sad excuse for a recycling bin, I began to feel inferior. I thought
I’ll bet the neighbors have a really nice decorative recycling bin
I reached back into the bin to retrieve the catalog, hoping to find a bin-type item adorned with attractive stars or suns or moons. Leafing through the pages, I did NOT find such an item. However, I DID find a big metal trellis that is used to disguise your recycling bin. (again, I’m not making this stuff up).
It was in that moment that I realized that the products in the catalog weren’t necessarily there to make my life “easier”. Instead, the products are geared to make my life more “enviable.”
What really makes life hard? Is it my smelly trash can? How about the static cling in my socks? Dull, lifeless hair? Nope. What makes life hard is that I make it hard on myself.
I listen to all of the people on TV, on the radio, and on the street who try and convince me that I lack something. I buy into the idea that more “stuff” will make my life easier. I start to believe that my worth is measured by the size and prestige of the things that I own. I try and differentiate myself by buying a new, truly unique shirt at the store, knowing full well that Old Navy manufactured about 7,000,000 of them.
“But mine has white stitching on the sleeve!” I say.
After a while, I start believing that my life satisfaction is wrapped up in increasing my standard of living. I currently live in a small house in a nice neighborhood, where I can vacuum every room in the whole place without having to move the plug to a different outlet.
It’s a nice, simple existence. A small house (and small mortgage) gives us the flexibility to say, go back to school, take some time off to do more missionary work, or star on a reality show featuring people with large teeth.
But there are still those moments when I fell like a failure because I should have a bigger house with more amenities.
That’s when I realize it. I’ve been hijacked.
It’s like when you were in grade school. When it came time for sleepovers and play dates, you always wanted to go visit the kid who had the coolest stuff. It was fun. My neighbor was a great friend of mine, and he was also this kid. In his house were treasures like a Nerf Gun, Slip-N-Slide, Atari, and an unlimited supply of Slim Jims. The problem was, when visiting this house, you also knew who made the rules. Inevitably, at the end of any game, the rules could be changed by the Keeper Of The Slim Jim, as it were. You could be on the cusp of victory in the “Who-Can-Disembowel-My-Sister’s-Stuffed-Animal-Collection-The-Fastest” game, only to find that the object of the game was to go to the family room and put on a Village People record.
Who is making the rules now? After watching TV, reading the paper, and listening to the radio, I get the feeling that those with all of the shiny junk (and TV stations and advertising budgets) have decided that shiny junk is the goal.
Coincidentally, they made these rules after they had already won the game.
The question is, “Why does owning all of the TV stations and/or Slim Jims give someone the right to make all of the rules?” I get this crazy feeling that we’re all playing this game of life without knowing the true objective.
I read a really alarming statistic recently. Every week, the average American spends six hours shopping, and spends forty minutes playing with his or her children. Working couples spend, on average, 12 minutes per day talking to each other.
Three minutes if you accidentally washed your wife’s favorite white blouse with your favorite red sweat pants.
Does this seem out of whack to anyone else?
We’re trying hard to be successful, but in the end, we’re gonna’ figure out that the key to it all was something totally different. I don’t purport to know what the key is, but I feel like I’m learning that disemboweling stuffed animals ain’t where it’s at.
One day I hope to meet God and ask all sorts of questions. Stuff like, “What were you thinkin’ when you made the platypus?” and “How did the cast of Jersey Shore really get so famous?” But most of all, I want to get the final answer on what his purpose was for my life.
If only we could redefine success and winning in life and pursue it with the tenacity of an Olympic athlete. Those same athletes who, when polled, 51% of them said that they would take a pill to win a Gold Medal even if it killed them in five years. We could just change the rules of the game so that the winner wasn’t the one who could accumulate the most the fastest, but rather, the one who understood “enough” the fastest, and worked the hardest to make sure everyone had it.
The ultimate judge would be The Almighty. I imagine it all looking a bit like the Price is Right.
God would be the Bob Barker of the Universe, asking us all to get as close to “enough” as possible, without going over. Inevitably, in our world, the one who wins would be some grandma from Pomona named Ethel who bid $1, after she had seen all of us overestimate how much we really needed to survive. She would then get to kiss and hug The Big Guy, while the rest of us were left holding our Year’s Supply of Turtle Wax and Rice-A-Roni – parting gifts for the overindulgent. If only we knew what “enough” truly was, and worked hard to make sure EVERYONE made it to the Showcase Showdown!?
My guess is that God, my God and your God, probably has an opinion as to where He would like us to invest the blessings He’s bestowed upon us. If I were to ask God if I should buy a fifth guitar, He would probably subtly remind me that the Second Harvest Food Bank could feed 2500 people for what it costs to buy that $500 guitar.
Maybe that’s what Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 was all about. We often see this miracle as some sort of magic trick. I can see the headlines in the local paper. “Bearded Man With Great Abs Turns Two Fish and Five Loaves Into Enough Food for 5000 People!” Might as well have had just two guitars, eh?
However, when we read In the Bible, it doesn’t talk of magic. The disciples saw a throng of people gathered to hear Jesus and learn from him. After Christ had spoken, the disciples said,
“This is a very remote place,” they said, “and it is very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)
The disciples thought it only fair to let everyone fend for himself. Hey! Concessions aren’t free at the JesusPalooza! You’re on your own, bro!
But Jesus answered,
“You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five – and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all of the peoples sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6: 37-44)
In this entire passage, there is no mention of Jesus multiplying or adding. No. Jesus divided. He broke. Mathematically speaking, these are very different. This feast was not about bread and fish magically appearing. No, the miracle was that a small amount of resources, equally shared, could satisfy so many.
What will it take to satisfy me? What is “enough” for me? Will I share my abundance?
God is asking me these same questions. Will you share? Will you stop? Reflect? Own what you have? Love? Cherish? Savor? Give?
This Christmas, God is challenging me to live the simple life.
But not easy.