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On Thanksgiving, the smell of the stuffed turkey fills the house.  Later, friends and family gather to share a Thanksgiving meal together. The following morning, families erect their Christmas tree and hang up their other decorations. Christmas carols play 24/7 for the next month. Consumers go to the stores, both brick-and-mortar and online, to buy presents and wrapping materials.

Within the blink of an eye, Christmas Eve arrives. Families gather again, this time with gifts to exchange. On Christmas morning, we wake up to see the base of the Christmas tree bursting with presents. Before long, the floor is covered in wrapping paper as each person sees what they got. “Thank you’ s” and hugs are exchanged before each goes off to try out their newest gifts.  Not long after, though, the gifts sit unused in the closet, collecting dust, as we move onto the next thing.

What is the point of those last two paragraphs, you may ask?

 A couple years ago, I was visiting Nana and Papa, my maternal grandparents, and had a conversation with Papa. I recall few times where he or Nana asked for anything material outside of the necessary essentials. I do not remember exactly what we were talking about, but I asked him, “Papa, is there anything you or Nana really want or need you don’t have?”

Pointing a finger towards the newest family photo—representing four generations with everyone accounted for—taken on Christmas Eve 2017 hanging above his couch, Papa said, “Grandma and I have what we need and our wants are satisfied.” At first, I was not entirely sure what he meant by that. Finally, I connected the dots: our relationships with others—with God, our family, and friends—are more important than material stuff.

To this day, I have not forgotten that conversation and the impact it has made on me.  True to Papa’s words, I did find a true sense of lasting joy, fulfillment, and happiness in my relationships. Today, I have learned to be content with the things I already have.

Am I saying we should not buy anything at all? Absolutely not. It is okay to buy things you want sometimes, and absolutely buy things you need to live (food, water, shelter, etc.). The problem starts when we devote so much our time to the material things of this world—money, houses, cars, pricey jewelry, a big job promotion, etc.—that our relationships almost become an afterthought and taken for granted. This is a painful, regret-laden trap we need, with God’s help, to avoid.

Though we may not be able to gather with family and friends this holiday season like we have before COVID-19 arrived or after COVID-19 is gone, may we slow down and truly not take each other’s company for granted. Remember, material things are replaceable, but our relationships can never be replaced. Once one of our loved ones are gone, there is no going back.