Life Experiences versus Material Things

“You’ve certainly had an interesting life.”

I hear that every time I preach a story-laden message or make a speech at a school or conference. I also hear it from people reading my books.

And they are right, Jo and I certainly have lived through a huge variety of unique experiences, some super-positive, pleasurable, or amusing: others decidedly less so.

An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Not every interesting experience is positive. In the early years of living and working among the Canela people of Brazil there was no road to the village so we flew back and forth in a small bush plane. We always prayed for a nice, boring four-hour flight with an even more boring landing at the end. No one wants an interesting flight looking down on 600 kilometres (400 miles) of untracked jungle!

Jo and I have focused, not on the things in our lives, but on the experiences. True, we all need some essential things, like food, clothing, shelter and transportation; but Jo and I tend to be tight fisted when spending money on things, and open handed when it came to spending money on experiences.

We went on a family road trip to southern Brazil after our oldest daughter, Valorie graduated from high school and would soon leave for university in Los Angeles. That journey cost us plenty of money and a significant amount of time. With that money we could have traded in our car for one twice as nice, but we didn’t. And none of our family have ever regretted making that trip.

Lace Dress

Lace Dress

Valorie has a framed picture in her home featuring four photos and a handwritten explanation. On that family trip she picked up a special souvenir, a cute little lace girl’s dress, “. . . in the hope that someday I would be married and have a little girl to wear it.”

She did get married and she did have a little girl, followed by triplet girls! As they grew up, they were each photographed on the beach listening to a seashell and wearing that little lace dress. Even though they are all in college now, that framed collection of photos still hangs as a mute testimony to the value of our travel experience over forty years before.

I have spoken at hundreds of missions events to encourage people to get involved in foreign missions, either as short term volunteers or as full time career missionaries. Even now, at almost every event people volunteer to experience missions first hand for a short time. But many others apologize, saying they can’t afford the trip, or the time away from their job. I feel bad for them, and sometimes wonder if they have already spent their money on things, with nothing left over for experiences.

Spending on things is so easy in our materialistic consumer driven society. May Jesus, who lived His most interesting life on earth—poor in things but rich in experiences—help us to live  counter culturally and not just go with the flow of our times.

Like a salmon heading upstream, swim against the cultural current, and you, too, will live an interesting life.