Recently, my husband and I noticed a nostalgic magnetic sign on our daughter’s car bumper was missing. When we asked where it was, she told us someone had stolen it from the college parking lot. A few days later, our younger daughter left her USB drive in the slot of a computer at her college library; when she returned just a few minutes later, it was already gone.
We acted shocked but the girls seemed nonplussed. “It happens all the time,” one girl told us. “Someone sees something left, they just take it.” While I call it stealing, I realized this taking of things is part of a mentality that permeates our society. It’s the idea that I ought to have whatever I see. Perhaps the takers don’t stop to think that the item they are taking belongs to someone else.
Our society is perpetuating this attitude. Recently the federal government has instigated a “cash for clunkers” program. If you trade in a car for one that gets better gas mileage, the federal government will reimburse you up to $4500. What a deal! How ‘bout that? I could get money for my car! Yet do we stop to ask where that $4500 per vehicle is coming from? I asked that question on Facebook and one answer sent shivers down my spine. “From the two percent of the rich in America to whom the former President gave tax cuts.” Does that insinuate that it is my right to have what someone else has, especially if they are rich, that I ought to have the money they have worked for without working for it myself?
The Internet has made the possession of what I want easy as well. Downloads are as quick as a click of my mouse. Which of us even stop to think of the work that article or that song entailed, that any worker is due a fair wage? It’s not free. It may be free to us but it cost someone something and they deserve to reap the harvest of their labor.
I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to taking advantage of the free stuff. I’m the queen of restaurant coupons and fuel perks. Prices are too high anyway and God wants me to be a good manager of my money, right? But my enjoyment of a half priced lunch is still costing someone something. Restaurant owners need to earn enough to live on, too.
We start teaching this attitude to children at an early age. One afternoon, I stopped to allow two children to pet my dog. One boy was hogging the dog and I said, “Let’s take turns.” He replied. “It’s my turn right now.” I’ve seen tired mothers at Walmart checkout lines placate the tantrums of their children, buying the candy or toy the child demands. Standing their ground and saying ‘no” would teach a life long valuable lesson – you don’t get everything you want.
Where do we start in teaching children they don’t have to have everything they see? Teaching children, “Thou shalt not steal” is a good starting point. Next, we need to teach the definition of stealing, taking what doesn’t belong to me. But we also need to teach children the why behind the command. We need to teach them God’s view of possessions:
1. Possessions are merely a tool, not an end to themselves. Relationships are far more important than what we own.
2. Even if it’s my right, I don’t have to have it. “Finders, keepers; losers, weepers” does not match the mercy of God. If I find an abandoned USB drive, it still belongs to someone. Have a heart. Try to return it. On another front, just because someone provides something free does not mean I have to have it. I don’t have to clog my own computer with Internet downloads. I don’t have to spend other taxpayers’ dollars just because it’s a free government program. “Just Say No” works for ownership of possessions as well as for drugs.
3. My personhood is not defined by what I own. Of course not, you say. Yet every time we brag or “share” with others about a purchase or gift, isn’t that we are communicating?
4. I should work for what I get; and if I didn’t work for it, I need to value what it cost the giver. Everything we have cost someone something. Even our salvation was not free. It came at a high price, the price of a life, a very special life.
5. Everything belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” None of it belongs to me in the first place, so it’s not mine to take.
How do I start to break the me mentality about possessions? How can I teach my children to be less self focused about ownership? It starts with an attitude of thanks. I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Teaching our children to be thankful for everything they receive – whether it’s a piece of candy from Walmart, or craft supplies during a Sunday School lesson will go a long way in shaping a more balanced attitude toward what they acquire.