This piece was featured as a nationally syndicated column for GateHouse Media. Here it is, for example, in the Providence, RI paper.
Think about the last time you went shopping. When you got to the checkout counter, how many of the items in your cart did you actually need? Not all of them, I bet.
I, too, am guilty of buying items that aren’t exactly necessary. The last time I was at our cabin in Wisconsin, I visited a local butcher whose shop is known for its beautiful meat and creative flavorings. Intending only to purchase hamburger meat for our cookout, I was waylaid by a sign near the checkout counter that for me was like Odysseus’ sirens calling from the rocks (of the freezer section): “Mac and Cheese Hotdogs! A gooey favorite stuffed inside a premium wiener. Pasta and cheddar may ooze out while grilling.”
Four words rang in my head: Can’t. Live. Without. It.
Were these outrageous hotdogs absolutely necessary for my health and wellbeing?
Okay, no. But clearly, the line between what I truly needed and what I simply wanted had become blurred.
Honestly, what do we really need beyond food, water, clothing, and shelter? And please understand that by food, water, clothing, and shelter, I don’t mean truffles, Perrier, Prada, and a McMansion. You can also live well with Ruffles, Pepsi, Payless, and a motorhome.
Some of you may argue, “I’ve worked hard. I deserve more than just the necessities for survival, because as Luke 10:7 says, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”
As my grandfather used to say, “true ‘nuf.” But that mentality can also become a vicious cycle. We reward ourselves with things beyond what we actually need to the point that we can no longer tell the difference between necessities and luxuries. Soon we lose track of what is enough, which causes us to overwork, overload, and overstress. And then we find ourselves in direct conflict with another Bible verse, one of The Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We can’t truly rest if we are constantly worried that we don’t have enough.
One way to break that cycle is to acknowledge what we have. Periodically, I like to pause and go through a list of five categories to remind myself of my blessings: health, means, love, beauty, and calling.
Health includes physical health and safety. Asking questions such as “Did I wake up this morning?” can help us focus on our most basic blessings with laser precision.
Means is the ability to provide for yourself. Can I afford to buy groceries (including a ridiculous luxury like mac and cheese hotdogs)? Can I pay my rent? Acknowledging the blessing of having the means to pay for what you need transforms the mundane task of writing checks into a sacred ritual.
Love is the blessing of family, friendship, and community. Do I have people around me who love me, honor me, and treat me with respect? Acknowledging love is also about reminding ourselves of the unconditional spiritual love that we all receive. As God says to us in Isaiah 43:1, “I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Beauty is anything that feeds the soul. Maybe you have a garden, or perhaps you have a Harley Davidson that you love. I have both in Wisconsin, but neither in New York City, so I give thanks for the wee plants in my apartment window and the tiny plastic model of a Harley Davidson Sportster on my desk.
Your calling is the reason you get up in the morning—a connection to something bigger than yourself. It could be your job or caring for your family or a loved one. Even if you are retired from your job and living alone, you still have a purpose. Your calling may be greeting the lonely person at the grocery store who is ignored by everyone else. Or it may be showing kindness to a telemarketer (unlike the rest of America). You matter, and for that, you should give thanks.
Will I give up my mac and cheese hotdogs? Maybe. Maybe not. What I will do is celebrate what they represent: the health that enables me to stand at the Weber and grill them, the means to buy them, the love of the family members who eat them, the beauty of the tiny pieces of pasta and cheese that ooze out, and the simple purpose of feeding body and soul. Most of all, I will try, before I even take a bite, to raise up a prayer of thanks and acknowledge that it is enough.