When I was growing up, I never considered that we did not have enough of what we needed. As I reflect on it now, I am aware it had much to do with the perspectives of my parents and their own life experiences and values. After their deaths in 1995 we saw some of the ledgers that contained their month-by-month finances. It made clear what I had not fully recognized when I was a child.
My parents discerned clearly the difference between needs and wants. That is one of the things many of us are coming to grips with during this time of health and economic crisis that looks quite different than it did just a few short weeks ago.
There were things I wanted when I was growing up that I saw other classmates at school have and that reminded me that we were not “rich” in material goods. I had fewer clothes, and most were made by my mother. That meant they were not always in fashion but would last longer than the ones I often wished to have back then. I usually had only two or three pairs of shoes at any one time. One might be a pair of tennis shoes and another would be a pair for church. When the pair for church became scuffed or worn, those became my “every day” pair of shoes and sometimes they were getting too small, but I only recall that when saddle shoes were popular, they were not in my rotation.
Other students brought lunches with things their mothers bought at a local grocery store. When my mother packed my lunch, the sandwich might contain meatloaf made from meat raised on our own farm, fruit grown on our own trees, a Thermos of milk produced from our own cows, and cookies made by my mother instead of the Oreos I wanted.
Despite things I wanted, there was always enough of what I needed. My parents had learned by living through the Great Depression and WW II how to stretch a dollar and to save and steward each thing they had. They knew no one could guarantee that what they had one day would be there the next. That affected their choices, plans, and decisions.
If our fruit trees produced in abundance, my mother would can or freeze more than she knew we would consume that year so there would be some for the following year if the weather or insects reduced the amount our family needed. When my mother went to the grocery store, she would be sure there was always an extra bag or two of sugar and flour as well as other staples just in case. You learn that lesson when there is rationing in a hard time.
For many or even most of us, we grew accustomed to running to the store more than once (or even twice) a week to pick up things we needed and wanted without much thought that it might not always be that way. We got used to spending more than saving whether that was money, food, household goods, or any other thing.
When everything changed a few weeks ago, some of us were at a loss on how to adapt to not eating out much of the time or making recipes work when we do not have all the usual ingredients.
We forgot the lessons the Israelites learned as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Yet it was those hard desert lessons that gave root to their faith.
I was reminded of that in a book I was reading a novel by Amy K. Sorrels this week. Consider these words in Lead Me Home:
“God saw to it that they had everything they needed, but in my opinion, he let them wander until they got the “wants” out of their system.
They were blinded by the lives of the Egyptians, their captors, and no doubt thought once they were freed, riches and the perceived blessings of material things would be theirs. But God wanted more for his people than material possessions…
But God tells us in Hosea 13:5, referring to the desert wandering of the Israelites, that he took care of them in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land. And again, in Deuteronomy 2:7, he reassures us that he has blessed us in everything we have done. He says that he watched the Israelites’’ every step through the great wilderness. During those forty years, the Lord was with them, and they lacked nothing.”
Yes, there were things they wanted, and they complained, but God provided everything they truly needed for life and what was needed to establish a nation in a new land.
Today my parents would have been married 81 years. Yes, they were married in 1939 when much was uncertain and the economic conditions were not the best, but they learned to distinguish wants from needs
Maybe this time might be used by the Lord to help us get “the wants out of our system.” Then we might also learn what the apostle Paul knew:
“11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4;11-13 (NIV)