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 (see http://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)


Additional lesson ideas:

Show your students (of any age) the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel. If you don’t have access to the book you could print out and show (or show on your computer screen) several of these photos from that book: attp://menzelphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/Material-World-Family-Portraits/G0000Ip09fSBViW8/C0000d0DI3dBy4mQ. After looking at the pictures, discuss what your students see in them, as is appropriate to their age level: How are these different families doing with their material goods? Which families look content? Does their contentment seem to have anything to do with how much stuff they have? If your students took a picture like this with their family and their stuff, what would it look like? Would they look content?


Teachers of very young Sunday Church School children can read a book such as More by I. C. Springman to their class. After reading, use the story to begin an age-appropriate discussion about materialism.


Students in grades K-6 will benefit from this lesson on (not) loving money, which focuses on 1 Timothy 6: 6-10. Find the lesson at: http://ministry-to-children.com/the-love-of-money-bible-lesson/. The lesson is well documented and printable!


Older elementary or middle school students could begin a discussion on materialism with this skit on “stuff”: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/618/gradeschool/stuff.php. It is available for download as a pdf, so that you can print copies for the students who will read/perform the skit.


Middle or high school Sunday Church School students can read and the discuss this article about one couple who pared back their lives: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1414166722-C2NoCO+I+Pw8Upcc5k4g1Q. What are the results of their simpler living? How does this simpler living work for the pair?


 Print and cut apart the following quotes (or any others you may find and add) about materialism and/or contentment. High school students can select a quote from a basket in which you have placed the cut-apart quotes. The students then take turns to read their quote to the class, and begin a discussion about the quote by stating whether or not they agree with it, as well as why. Together as a class, read 1 Tim. 6:6-10. Compare that quote to the others that had been read. Students can then each select their favorite quote, and illustrate it. Hang the illustrations around your classroom to remind you all to be content with what you have; and to avoid materialism.

Contentment vs. Materialism Quotes:

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ” ~ Socrates

“To be content with little is difficult; to be content with much, impossible.” ~Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Aphorisms


“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


“We’ve got a sort of brainwashing going on in our country, Morrie sighed. Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it–and have it repeated to us–over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.


Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’


You know how I interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.


Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.” ~ Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie


“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” ~ Bertrand Russell


“Life isn’t about having, it’s about being. You could surround yourself with all that money can buy, and you’d still be as miserable as a human can be. I know people with perfect bodies who don’t have half the happiness I’ve found. On my journeys I’ve seen more joy in the slums of Mumbai and the orphanages of Africa than in wealthy gated communities and on sprawling estates worth millions. Why is that? You’ll find contentment when your talents and passion are completely engaged, in full force. Recognise instant self-gratification for what it is. Resist the temptation to grab for material objects like the perfect house, the coolest clothes or the hottest car. The if I just had X, I would be happy syndrome is a mass delusion. When you look for happiness in mere objects, they are never enough. Look around. Look within.” ~ Nick Vujicic

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