Isn’t that a great word? Webster’s define stuff as “materials, supplies, equipment, personal property, and trash.” As a missionary, I find myself thinking a lot about stuff. Not always about a lot of stuff, but a lot about stuff. How much we have, how much we need, and why it is so important to us.
My travels keep me on the road for over six months each year. Some of that time is here in the United States, but the majority is in Mexico. In the course of one year I will spend more time in busses, taxis, planes, and even dump trucks than most people will in their entire life. When you travel as much as I do, you learn to travel light. Usually I have nothing more than one of those black wheelie suitcases that fit in an overhead airplane bin and my computer. My entire collection of life stuff for six months is contained in two small bags.
One of the things I have learned about stuff is that those of us living in the US have more stuff than most folks on the rest of the world. Guess how I learned this. By looking at trashcans. Interesting isn’t it? Do you know that an average family in rural Mexico can go almost two weeks and not fill up a standard 55-gallon size trashcan? I don’t know about your family, but my wife and I can fill one of those up in about 2 days. It is amazing how much trash we generate with all of our stuff.
Recently I was visiting my young nephew. The family was together to celebrate his second birthday. I watched as we showered him with all of the gifts typical for a two year old. Little people, stuffed animals, clothes, cars, and other assorted toys. It was a pretty normal birthday party, much like the ones my own son Joseph had when he was young.
But I noticed something as we were opening all of the brightly wrapped presents. He was having a blast. Not with the gifts, but with the paper. I was down on the floor teaching him how to tear the paper off his packages and throw it around the room, and he was loving it. A couple of the toys did catch his attention, but not so much that he was willing to give up his fun with the paper.
Later that week we all went out to dinner in a pretty fancy restaurant. The kind where people look at you if you have a child who does not sit quietly. Which sometimes describes my nephew. To occupy him, his aunts and grandmother took turns walking with him outside and playing with him. You know what he wanted to do? Toss rocks into a pond. He had such a good time he wanted to bring some rocks home with him so he could play with them later. Rocks. Small stones. Pebbles!
Little kids are a happy and content lot. They just want to play and have a relationship with people, not stuff. Sure they love the Model X900 Video Titanic Little People Cityscape from Mega Toy World, but what they really want, crave, and need is relationship. Just like us big kids. You see my nephew was having fun tossing rocks in the pond because his grandmother was spending time with him. He liked tearing paper and throwing it around because he and his uncle were playing together.
As we enter the gift buying frenzy known as Christmas, are we missing something? Could it be that all that stuff we are convinced we need is really just a substitute for a relationship? What would it cost us to decide to give the gift of our time to someone this year? No gift buying, no trash to fill the can, no stress waiting in line at Target. Maybe we could just decide to toss pebbles with a close friend or rip up some paper together while sitting on the floor. Because really isn’t relationship more valuable than any gift you could possibly buy? And besides, do we really need more stuff?
© 2005 David Miller