Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
“Dad,” Hannah called excitedly. “There are fourteen gifts under the tree for me! Fourteen!”
“Yes, love,” I acknowledged, crossing my arms and eying the pile of wrapped packages hugging the base of the tree. After all, this was two weeks before Christmas, and every gift lying there had been purchased by Mary and me, my parents, or my in-laws. Santa hadn’t even stopped by yet. Had we gone overboard this year? I wondered. Had we diluted—or, God forbid, distorted—the true meaning of Christmas? Had we crossed the line and succumbed to the rampant commercialism oft lamented by Christians trying to hang on to the hope, joy, peace, and love that Christmas represents? Had we set a new precedent in expectation? Had we made the celebration of Christ’s incarnation confusing? Or worse, meaningless? I pushed away the nagging thoughts. “Remember, sweet pea, it’s not about the number of presents you get but about the birth of Jesus.” I sounded like a cheesy Christmas card.
Christmas morning Hannah dived into the trove with relish, unwrapping package after package while Mary and I juggled the camera and the iPad, hoping to capture the moment in way too many formats we’ll never consolidate. “Yay!” Hannah squealed. “A Q-BA-Maze!” Glad she knew what it was. I hadn’t even heard of it ‘til we ordered it on Amazon. “Wow!” she shouted. “Another robot!” Grandma and Grandpa had loaded her up with four robot kits. The kid loves technology and she’s all about the science. “Dad! It’s Simon!” she yelled, holding up a gift from Santa Claus. That and Battleship and Spirograph stirred up memories of Christmases past. Finally she gutted her stocking. “Just what I wanted!” she laughed. “Nano Bugs!”
Without a moment’s pause to consider the morning’s haul, Hannah and I jumped right into figuring out what the Q-BA-Maze thing was all about. Then we built a domino run with her two domino sets. Next, she constructed a Lego Space Needle. Then we sat down to watch Inside Out. “Why don’t we play with your Nano Bugs?” I suggested after the movie finished.
“I didn’t get a track,” Hannah said.
“We can play with them without a track, right? I mean, we can just let them loose on the floor and see what they do. Right?”
“I guess,” she relented. She peeled a Nano Bug out of the package, switched it on, and placed it on the floor. Immediately it bee lined for the oven and disappeared into the netherworld underneath. When we finally fished it out, we discovered, much to Hannah’s disgust, that it had captured a rather large clump of dog hair complete with a mummified wolf spider embedded in it.
“Eww!” she screamed. “See, Dad, this is why we need a track.” Or rather, this is why Daddy needs to pull the stove out from the wall more often to let Mommy clean behind it.
Three weeks passed. One afternoon Hannah interrupted me as I passed through the house on my way from the attic to the bathroom. We were taking advantage of the cool weather and a string of unfettered days to declutter the space above the garage and improve its storage capability (and prevent me from stepping through the drywall again).
“Dad, can I play with the boxes on the back porch?” Hannah asked. I’d piled dozens of boxes we’d cleared out of the attic onto the back patio to be burned.
I shrugged. Several robots sat on her craft table, unopened and untouched. A kitchen science kit, a gift from at least a year ago, mingled with the stack of new presents, still wrapped in clear plastic. I hadn’t seen the Q-BA-Maze since Christmas day, and most of the other gifts she’d been so excited about had disappeared altogether. I’m sure most of them ended up on the Island of Misfit Toys.
“That’s fine,” I answered. “Just be sure to put the boxes up when you’re done.”
Excitedly she ran out the back door and spent the next hour or two building what looked like an elaborate Habitrail fashioned from discarded cardboard and masking tape. A few days later, Hannah transformed a large cookie sheet and several boxes into a functioning Nano Bug habitat. I watched, fascinated, as the cockroach-like toys scuttled around the track, dodging in and out of an inverted box’s rough-hewn hidey holes.
Watching those bugs reminded me of Hannah’s fascination with paper wads and cardboard boxes when she was two or three. A simple ball of paper could keep her contented for hours. A playhouse I’d constructed out of an unwanted carton entertained her for months. Heck, it entertained me for months! As the Nano Bugs buzzed and dodged and hid and re-emerged, I was reminded that life is best enjoyed when lived simply, when intent is stripped down to nothing more than loving God, loving others, and delighting in the life He so graciously entrusted us with. “Our life is frittered away by detail,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “Simplify. Simplify.”
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” advised the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV®). When I first read that passage so long ago it shot straight to my heart and has been lodged there ever since. “Be content with what you have.” Yes . . . . Be content with the roof over your head, the food on the table, the clothes on your back, the labor you’ve been given. Be happy with where you are in the moment, with the blessings God has already rained down on you, with the relationships He’s placed in your life, with the surprises He’s planned for you and is revealing even now. For what is life but the day-to-day triumph of simple moments lived fully?
By the end of this year I hope to have the attic organized and the junk occupying it pared down to what we actually use. I plan to clean out my garden shed, purge our closets, and, to Mary’s delight, downsize the sentimental detritus I’ve accumulated over the last 40 years. I plan to spend time more intentionally with my family, just enjoying who we are and who God made us to be. I want to live life with a more intentional simplicity to make room for what really matters, to cast off the “stuff”—all the stuff—that so easily entangles. And as for Christmas this year, well, I don’t know how easy a paper wad will be to wrap, but an old cardboard box should be a cinch.
Copyright © 2016 by David C Hughes