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Why I No Longer Want What I Don’t Have

BY Susan Baxter

April 9-15, 2000 Issue | Posted 4/9/00 at 1:00 PM

 

The woman I work for has been richly blessed. I should know. I see her in the mirror every morning and clean her house each week.

There are much grander homes. The downstairs bathroom needs a new carpet, the front doorjamb is cracked, the windows leak a bit when it rains. But the roof is good and it's warm inside.

Her furnishings are certainly not anything to brag about: Everything in the home was handed down or bought at garage sales. But the way it's come together makes God's hand clear. Everything almost matches, it's all in perfectly good shape and most of the world's people have far less.

In the morning, all you have to do is push a button on a machine and coffee comes out. It makes the whole house smell like morning. I whip up muffins or eggs or pancakes to send the children off to school. The children are healthy and bright. The little boy often wears out the knees of his pants; the teen-age girl occasionally puts on too much makeup and gets sent back to the mirror to remove it. But their parents have no serious complaints about them.

I smile as I watch them shut their eyes and pray before they dive into their breakfast. The husband reads in the morning. When the wife kisses his balding head, he says, “Oh, thank you.” He seems genuinely grateful for meals, for laundry, for the kids doing their chores. He lives every day in sincere thanksgiving for God's grace and his happy attitude is contagious.

In the basement, the washer and dryer hum away as water whirls in the dishwasher upstairs. Music plays while I fold and sort the family's clothes. I could watch the TV while I work if I wanted to, but today, I choose Mozart. Later I will write a letter or call my mom for a chat.

This is a humble home, but I love it. It's the perfect place to reflect on what I have to be thankful for. There are many who have much more than you'll find in this home. Why do so many seem to worry about what they don't have? I suppose it's just too tempting to look upon what the neighbors have and think, “Some day we'll have that, too.” In fact, I know from personal experience that, when you fret over what you don't have, you invariably fail to appreciate what you do have.

I love toiling here, and not just because I am both the “buyer” and the “seller” of these services. The main reason I find my work — my vocation — so fulfilling is that God, for some reason I do not deserve or understand, has given all this to me.

I didn't always look at things this way. I grew up thinking of myself as a have-not because I wore hand-me-downs and ate at a table with seven siblings. It took me a long while to see the wisdom in Mother Teresa's view that one of the worst forms of poverty is the poverty of the materially rich who starve for love.

When I became a parent, I stayed home with my children until they entered school and then yoked myself to the cart of provisions. I actually thought my children would be better off with a mother who could help provide them with the best clothes and all the play-junk they could think of.

I found myself feeling superior to my own stay-at-home mom, doling out stuff to my children in the hope it would make them happier than I had been.

One night, as I was rushing to beat a deadline, my son was trying to show me the latest book he'd finished reading. I paused, listened, then dove back into my work. He walked away saying, “I wish we could have read it together.”

His words shot through my heart like a hot bullet. I remember thinking how much easier it would have been to tell him I didn't have a new toy for him rather than that I didn't have time for him. The next week, I gave my notice to quit my job.

My goal this Lent, as I look toward living more simply — and sparsely — is to notice all my real blessings and learn not to want. If I really want Lent to work its power in my life, I will give up longing for what I do not have and learn to desire what God has already given me. After all, I have all I need.

Sure, the car has 200,000 miles on it. Sure, I bounced a check last week. And sure, it's easy to covet my neighbor's new sport utility vehicle, my editor's laptop computer, my best friend's wardrobe. But my husband loves me, my children are healthy and happy and God is at my side. How blind would I be to ask for more?

Susan Baxter meets her occasional Register deadlines from Creede, Colorado.