That Darn Camel: Raising Conscientious Kids in a Stuff-Oriented Culture

by Jennifer Grant

This is the fourth of a series of five posts exploring money and faith. The series title comes from this scripture verse: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23 – 25)

In years past, my girls pined for Webkinz, slap bracelets, and Silly Bandz. When they were younger, my boys coveted high-flying superballs and Harry Potter trading cards. One of these “novelties” would find its way into our home, contained in a birthday party goody bag, perhaps, or on loan from a friend, and then, without warning, it would begin to proliferate. Before I knew it, I’d find mounds of the unwelcome visitors around the house and marvel at how in so short a time this new thing had become a constant companion to my child. Some time later, though, just as suddenly as was their arrival, the little toys fell out of favor and were unceremoniously thrown away or tossed into the donate bin. Alas, such is the lifespan of cheap, kids’ collectibles.

Currently, both of my daughters are charmed by hand sanitizer holders. “Bejeweled” ones, to be exact. If you’ve not yet encountered them, these are small, flexible plastic cases into which one inserts a small bottle of scented hand sanitizer. The case can then be clipped to a lunchbox or a backpack—or to another case holding a different scent of hand sanitizer.

Now I’m as germophobic as the next person. Well, honestly, I’m more germophobic than many people I know, so you’d think I’d be delighted with this most recent object of my girls’ obsession. At least this trend du jour contributes to cleaner hands, no?

No. I can’t help seeing it for what it is: yet another way that my girls are lured into accepting the notion that not only that owning something, but owning multiple versions of a favorite something, will make them happy. It’s a message born of our culture’s affluence, boredom, and willingness to look away from human suffering and the responsibility of those whose needs are met to address it.

So what’s the answer for socially-conscious parents like me who aim to raise children who truly love their neighbors, and not just the people with the swimming pool next door? Should we forbid the purchase of these trinkets? Make our kids donate, dollar for dollar, the amount they spend on these whimsies to a charitable organization? Certainly the solution cannot be to sell all we have and give it to the poor—that would be not only drastic, but patently un-American, right?

I’m quite sure that what I do matters much more than what I say to my kids about how to use money in a responsible and open-handed way. To date, however, I’ve not sold all of my possessions. I have not chosen an ascetic lifestyle, as some believers I admire have done. But I do continue to wrestle out these issues in ways my children can see.

I continue to fight my own materialistic impulses and help myself in those efforts by removing our address from mailing lists so none of us will be tempted to pore over the pages of catalogs, taking stock of what we do not have. I don’t go shopping “just for fun.” My kids have spent time at the food pantry, sometimes serving clients and sometimes stocking the shelves. They observe families who are homeless lining up outside a local church on Sunday nights as we slip in the back door to drop off food for their dinner. And, perhaps most significantly, every Sunday as the offering plates are brought to the front of my church, we speak the words, “All things come of thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.”

Although I don’t usually behave as if that’s true—as if every single thing and every single penny I have is God’s, not mine—I continue to repeat those words, claim them, and live into them more and more as I mature in my faith. And, despite the glittery hand sanitizer cases my daughters have purchased, I believe that, with God’s help, they will too.

Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter and MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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