Have you ever eaten a bag of corn chips with tears in your eyes? I have. And it wasn't because the chips were the hot barbeque-flavored ones. So why all the emotion?
For some years our family lived outside the United States. During that time, we discovered that we had to go without some of our favorite foods—they were simply not available. One of my preferred snacks was corn chips. I felt deprived!
Every few years, overseas workers are sent back home for a little breather and to stock up on necessities. This down time is called a furlough. I well remember coming home for furlough and rushing to the supermarket to buy corn chips. I must confess that during those first few bites I was almost misty eyed! Can you believe that of a grown man—a preacher, no less? Before I left home to return to our overseas post, some of my friends kindly gave me several bags of corn chips as a gift.
The years passed and our family returned to the States. And you know, I don't feel the same way I used to about corn chips. Of course, I still like them, but it's not the same. Something has changed, and it's not the chips. What has changed is that now I can eat corn chips anytime I want to--24/7, as they say.
I have made the great discovery that the enjoyment I used to get from eating corn chips was not in their abundance but in their scarcity. In other words, I derived more joy and pleasure from eating the chips when they were a rare treat and I knew I would not be able to have them as often as I liked.
Jesus once gave a prescription that, if we would fill it, would greatly enhance the quality of our lives. But be warned, this prescription flies in the face of what contemporary culture seems to be telling us everywhere we look, which is that a quality life comes when you have a quantity life. In other words, the more you have, the happier you will be.
But Jesus says No. Here is His prescription for an over-indulgent generation: "Take heed, and beware of covetousness," He said, "for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15, NEV). And experience proves Him right. A quantity life and a quality life rarely go together.
On one of our Christmases overseas, money was so scarce that family members hand-made their gifts for each other. My oldest daughter, then a preteen, made a pair of slippers for her mother. The cardboard soles were meant to be held on the feet by a length of ribbon. By the way, they didn't work, but it was the thought that made the gift precious. And all of the gifts around the tree that year were wrapped in newspaper. But if you were to ask our children now which Christmas was most memorable to them, they would probably say it was that one, unforgettable not by its quantity but by its quality. True happiness does not consist in how much we have. Fifty years ago a child may have had only five toys. Today by the age of five they may have hundreds.
When faced with opportunities to buy something for others or for ourselves, we have the opportunity to choose. Which will it be, quantity or quality? Will the indulgence result in an additional five pounds of weight or put us deeper than ever in debt? Your gift can be the most memorable ever if you will follow the advice of Jesus and remember that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.
I challenge you to make whatever event you are celebrating truly memorable, not for the food or the gifts but for the things that really matter--relationships, particularly family relationships. May I suggest that you give yourself—a little of your time—as a gift. Take your children or grandchildren shopping to buy a gift for someone who can’t afford it. Take a widow or widower to the zoo or to a museum. Invite a teen to your home for popcorn and games. Your brother or sister might like the offer of free babysitting while they enjoy some time alone. Offer to walk the neighbor’s dog. Visit a shut-in. The possibilities are many.
Our quantity lives are actually keeping us from enjoying a quality life. Let's make our celebrations unforgettable by what we do for others rather than what we buy for others. Remember, it is more blessed to give than to receive.