Meal times were much more simple before our son started eating "grown-up" foods. When we sat down to eat, Laura and I had our plates, and our son had his bowl. We ate from our food, and he ate from his, and I don't think it ever occurred to him to wonder what we were eating.
But that changed when we started feeding him food off our plates. Once we started that, from then on, he would always be curious about what was on our plates.
And that's fine, but sometimes it's a bit inconvenient. There are some foods that we don't feed our son yet (for example, his pediatrician has recommended that we not feed him peanut butter just yet, and if I'm eating eggs with yolks that are a bit runny, I won't feed them to him).
This morning our son had a bowl of cereal, but I had a breakfast sandwich made with bread, cheese and eggs (slightly runny). On a normal morning, he will go at his cereal with great gusto, and never stop until it's finished. But this morning, since I was eating a breakfast sandwich, he was extremely curious about that, and would not eat his own food, because he was determined to have some of mine.
The interesting thing was that as soon as my sandwich was gone, he went immediately to his cereal and gobbled it all down without hesitation.
He knows that his cereal is quite yummy, and under normal circumstances he doesn't hesitate to dive into it. But today his desire for something else kept him (temporarily) from enjoying his own food.
That made me think of a couple verses in scripture about the blessings God gives to us, and the way we respond to those blessings. Just as I don't give my son things that I don't think are good for him, God doesn't give us things that aren't good for us. James 1:17 says that all good and perfect gifts come down from the Father. And under normal circumstances, I would rejoice in those good and perfect gifts.
But sometimes something else comes along that God doesn't intend for me to have -- something that would be unhealthy for me. And what happens? Silly me, I stop focusing on the good things God has given me, and I start focusing on the things He hasn't given me. The result? I cease to enjoy the good things that God intended for me to have.
This is one of the great secrets of contentment -- to understand and have faith that what God has given me is far better than what He hasn't given me.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul says that he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. What about you? Are you content? Or are you always distracted from what you do have by the things you don't have?
This morning I went out snowshoeing. Because we've had a mixture of snow, rain, and freezing rain recently, there were stretches of my trek where the rain had washed down the hill, forming a smooth sheet of ice on an uphill grade.
Now, if I hadn't been wearing my snowshoes, I would have found it just about impossible to make it up that slope without sliding backwards two feet for every foot I moved forward.
But my snowshoes have vicious-looking sawtooth crampons on the bottom, that do a great job of digging into the ice and giving me the traction I need.
I didn't slip even once, on my way up the hill, or on my way back down.
As I was walking, I thought of two verses. One of them was a verse I read just yesterday, from the book of Psalms. Psalm 73, speaking of the wicked, says:
The Psalm tells us that those who live with unrighteousness might appear to have it all together, they might appear to be on solid footing, but in reality, they're like someone on a sheet of ice without snowshoes. Sooner or later, no matter how "together" they seem to be, they'll slip up, and everything falls apart.
Now, if I were to ask you, "How do you avoid that slippery place?" you might be tempted to answer, "Don't get involved in unrighteousness." That's not a bad answer, but it's actually not what the Psalmist says. In verses 2 and 3, he writes:
Isn't that interesting? The Psalmist says that it is envy that almost put him on the slippery slope. That makes sense, doesn't it? It is our envy that causes us to take the same shortcuts the unrighteous take in order to reach our goals.
I guess that means contentment is like a good pair of snowshoes. I wouldn't want to be without it!
Have you ever seen an underground home? That was one of the most fascinating things I saw when I was in North Africa: dwellings which were essentially nothing more than caves dug into the hillside. This is not an uncommon thing, near the edges of the Sahara Desert; in the daytime it gets very hot, and at night it gets very cold, so an underground dwelling helps to soften both extremes, staying cooler in the day and warmer at night.
I remember visiting one of these underground homes when I was taking a three-day "tour" of the country. The tour group parked on the roadside and hiked up to this home where a woman was sitting in a little cul-de-sac grinding out grain. Of course, I wasn't fooled; I understood that she had an arrangement with the tour guide. When she saw the tour van park, she immediately headed for the grinding wheel so we could see her "doing her daily grinding." But even though it was a "show," I had done enough reading to know that this really was how the people lived.
We looked around the "house" and saw nothing but a few cooking utensils, and two or three rough matresses in cul-de-sacs which served as bedrooms for the woman and her family. They had virtually no possessions.
It caused me to think about how much I take for granted. I own so many things, and yet, I have to ask myself if my happiness is dependant on these things. If a fire destroyed everything I own tonight, would my life be any less joyous tomorrow? How would I survive living a life with so few possessions?
The other thing I kept thinking about was this: everything I've read and heard about these families suggests that they truly are content with what they have, although it is not very much at all. What is their secret? I think their secret may be far simpler than we think. Their secret is that they don't know any other way of life. The natural human tendency is to compare ourselves and our lifestyle with those around us. This is the source of our discontent. If we had nothing else to compare to, we could be content with virtually nothing.
I admire the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Philippians:
The thing that is amazing is not so much that he knows contentment; the amazing thing is that he has tasted both wealth and poverty, and still knows contentment.
It's funny the things you remember from your childhood -- often it's not the big events that stick in your memory, but the small, silly little things. I remember breakfast time. Specifically, I remember the Battle of the Toast.
You see, every morning my mom would toast up and butter a big old stack of toast and put it on the breakfast table. Right in the middle of the table. I had two older brothers, and the Battle of the Toast was a war to see who would get the most toast for breakfast. It was a silly thing; none of us needed more than a couple slices of toast with jam or peanut butter, but none of us ever thought about what we needed, or even what we wanted. Instead we only thought about what "the other guy" was getting. And our desires were defined by what "the other guy" had. Thus, if my brother ate four pieces of toast, then I just had to have four pieces of toast. Didn't matter if I was already full; I had to keep up.
Eventually, Mom put a stop to the Battle of the Toast by carefully counting out how many slices of bread she toasted, and limiting us to two slices apiece. Seems kind of silly now, doesn't it?
But this is the cost of envy -- the cost of looking at the other person and comparing what I have to what they have. I stop thinking about what is good (or even what is healthy) and I just have to have what they have. It makes no difference if I need it, makes no difference if it is good for me. I want it.
Just like Peter tells us to put aside deceit, malice, hypocrisy, and slander, he also tells us (1 Peter 2:1) to put aside envy. Envy is the mentality behind the Battle of the Toast -- it is the desire for what someone else has. And we will never be healthy as long as we measure our life and our possessions in comparison to what someone else has.