I had just finished hauling the last of Zenie’s toys out of her play room and jammed them into a closet. Catching my breath I looked at her sternly.
“You see, now you’ve lost all your toys. Next time do you think you will help Mama clean up when she asks you to?”
She looked solemnly at the empty spaces.
Quietly she spoke, “Well at least I still have my rug,” she said, “And my chair . . . And my my bookshelf.”
Horrified by her optimism and her lack of concern over the absence of the piles of toys that we had so lovingly provided her, I reassured myself that certainly over the next few days she would miss them, and then somehow through this exhausting mess she would learn some sort of valuable lesson.
. . .
It turns out the lesson was mine.
I watched her over the following weeks as bits of paper became food and plates, and as she made games out of old cardboard boxes and rocks. She tore grass out of the yard and made it into a “swimming pool” which she used far more than she ever used her actual kiddie pool. It turns out she didn’t miss her toys much at all. And I was witness to the creativity of a three year old at its finest.
Around the same time we were reading through the Little House on the Prairie series, and we came to a story where Ma, Pa and Baby Carrie in a run away ox cart. The family survives but in the ordeal Baby Carrie’s brand new handmade dress is torn and ruined.
Yet a few chapters later the dress reappears as trim for the curtains in the new house. And though it isn’t written this way I imagine it being incorporated into Laura’s rag doll and Mary’s quilt too.
Like Zenie and her paper scraps, Ma took something that I would consider trash and saw it as an opportunity. What for me is a quick fix via Amazon with Prime two day delivery of whatever dress I want from all around the world. For Ma it is a challenge, to make good use of what she already has.
And I love it when I go there. When I go to the trouble of taking a cardboard box and make it into a bear cave for my daughter (though we have already established that she would have had just as much fun with the original unadorned box, so really the cave was for me). But I love the energy of being inventive and resourceful and making something myself.
Still most of the time I don’t bother.
Target isn’t far and I can re-decorate for $100. Why would I make new curtains, pillows or picture frames?
Panda Express is right down the street. Why would I go to the trouble to chop up all those left overs and make them into my own of stir-fry?
Walmart is open 24 hours a day. Why should I start growing my own vegetables?
. . .
I began this evening by looking around my comfortably furnished home with closets full of clothes and pantry overstuffed. I began to say, as I’ve been teaching my daughter, “Thank you God for these many blessings.”
But then I wondered if I maybe have it all reversed.
Now certainly there is blessing in having enough, no doubt in that. But I wonder if perhaps somewhere along the way the scales have tipped and that now each year as my stuff increases I am actually loosing.
What if I am missing out on the chance to create, to express myself and develop my mind? What if my family is missing out on learning to build something together, or on the unifying experience of sometimes having to go without?
But even more than that, what if it is as Genesis suggests, that God made us to be people who care for and work the land? What if it is part of our nature to be producers? What if we experience more of Him and become more ourselves as we create (create can mean a lot of things here, I know we won’t all do arts and crafts, but maybe it’s music or a curriculum for students, or writing, or computer programing, we all have ways that we are uniquely gifted to be creative and we can all in some ways provide for our own needs) ?
Maybe it isn’t simply the fun of creating something new that I am missing out on, but that in not creating I am actually missing out on experiencing a deeper understanding of God and the way that He provides for my family.
And I know we can’t actually make everything ourselves. But what if we could name the person who made our clothes or furniture? What if our stuff came out of our community instead of being chosen for its pizazz and bargain pricing? How would that change who we are and how we interact with the world? What would it say of us as a people, about our values and standards?
. . .
I’m not advocating for a vow of poverty. Be assured Zenie eventually earned all of her toys back and once again has a play room full (and has become a pretty good little cleaner upper, I might add). I’m not even proposing a solution. But I am suggesting that we at least stop and notice that with each convenient new purchase at Wal-Mart (now hear me folks I’m not judging I was at Wal-mart today) we may be missing out on something better, and in fact we may be loosing something that can’t easily be retrieved, something that would lead to the cultivation of our own souls.
Maybe we can learn something from St. Teresa of Avila’s simple prayer who when looking at her one change of clothes and simple room in the convent says,
“Thank God for the things that I do not own.”
This post is part of a series based on reflections from The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer. To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here. Each year we read a collection of books on life, faith and family, to see our list click here. If you would like to read along, please subscribe and you will get new posts sent to your inbox as well as reading group updates. Feel free to comment or join us in our facebook group for more in depth discussion.
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