On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (seehttp://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)

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