All Those Vain Things

It is the summer before eleventh grade.

I babysit frequently, for several families, and word spreads. One bright June morning I receive a call from an older mother, with a handful of young children. She and her husband are comfortably wealthy, this I know, as I was informed by one of my friends who attends their church.

I care little about such things and only desire to work, fattening my savings account. College is coming.

The mother offers me a one-day trial run prior to the dog days of summer. If all goes well, I will be offered four days of babysitting per week, including some light cleaning. She announces the pay and I quickly agree.

I am sixteen-and-a-half, and don’t sweat the details.

Day One.

I arrive and the mother seems tired, melancholy, and is poor of posture. Her weighty diamond ring is muted by a faded L.L. Bean t-shirt, tattered khaki shorts, and worn-out Birkenstocks.

I find it uncomfortable to babysit when the mother is at home. Uncomfortable like this: As I read aloud to her children, I refrain from speaking the funny voices I would normally use when the parents are gone. Books like Where the Wild Things Are.

Typically? I would roar my terrible roar! and gnash my terrible teeth! and roll my terrible eyes! pretending to be the monster, prompting the children to giggle and scream in delight. When the mother is home, however, I read quietly, in case she is working or conversing on the telephone, or who am I kidding? In case she considers my reading voices weird.

I am also nervous that I might be doling out a few too many goldfish crackers or cups of apple juice to wash them down. I wonder: is that her shadow watching us play jump rope and creating sidewalk chalk figures on the driveway? Is she spying as I construct wide forts with old blankets and soft sheets?

I also wonder why in the world she is paying me large sums of cash to watch her kids while she is actually watching me watch them?

So yes, she remains at home all of day one, and as the children and I come in and out of the house, I pay attention to all of the stuff. Expensive trinkets, and tasteful. Well-made, attractive. But there are so many things, that I feel all beauty has been lost.

Plus, when the children go down for their naps, these knick-knacks will definitely make my dusting duties difficult. Heavy glass paperweights, miniature sailboats carved of fine wood, dozens upon dozens of picture frames, pewter candle stick holders clutching beeswax candles, boxes of pricey herbal teas, dozens of Longaberger baskets, and Russian nesting dolls, cleverly painted. Weighty blankets are strewn over the backs of high back Wing chairs. Furniture that cries heirloom yet has been tastefully reupholstered.

There are enormous wood hutches pushed against the east wall, two of them, side-by-side, smooth and painted a robin’s egg blue, lovely and swollen with at least four full sets of fine bone China, each.

The home is not dirty, per se, but stacked and cluttered and dusty and disorganized and I wonder why. It feels insatiably hungry and sad and although packed to the gills, empty.

At the end of the day, she walks downstairs and offers me the summertime job, and I accept.

Day Two.

I arrive, and she throws a small leather satchel over her shoulder, hair wet and pushed back by sunglasses. She escapes quickly, but not before handing me a pretty feather duster, with a please clean the downstairs when the children take an afternoon rest.

The children and I have a good morning romping in the fresh air, playing tag before the boys turn to their Big Wheels while I push the baby in her stroller. When the sun stretches high and the children’s cheeks grow flushed, we slump onto the porch and slurp popsicles while consuming one gigantic stack of books. I create all the voices and the children giggle. After peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches it is naptime.

I tuck them in one by one and locate the feather duster. The trinkets are legion, and the work proves tedious.

Late afternoon, I reach into the massive (and stuffed!) refrigerator, plucking some applesauce and cheese sticks from its depths, and the children feast. Soon the mother returns home laden with shopping bags. Crusty French bread peeks from the top of one paper bag, alongside alouette, gouda cheese, six green apples, and a head of dark Romaine. The other three bags are filled with baubles: expensive stationary, a pewter candlestick, a pair of fragrant cranberry candles, several coffee table books, a leather bracelet, a breakable China doll complete with eyelet bonnet for the baby’s dresser, and a miniature, pressed-wildflower paperweight.

Shopping is therapeutic she murmurs, and her face looks tired. I wonder where all of the things will go.

I glance at her children, little people who would likely never want for any material thing.


Last week our church sang When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, written by Isaac Watts.

Stanza two sizzled and seared:

Forbid it Lord that I should boast

Save in the death of Christ my Lord.

All the vain things that charm me most

I sacrifice them to His blood.


I sang this beautiful hymn and immediately knew — I have been giving myself a pass.

I prefer clean open spaces and few trinkets, and this is why our home is not filled with stuff. I rarely go shopping, except for groceries.


I am perfectly charmed by high-quality goods, such as fine furniture with good bones. I take pleasure in books, and sometimes grow impatient waiting for them to be delivered free of charge to my Libby library app. It is so easy! so convenient, to click on amazon and pay too much, when I could patiently wait in line, or read something I already have.

I am charmed by delicious smelling hand soaps and hanging plants and bright hummingbird feeders. I choose thick, expensive wrapping paper rather than going cheap. I prefer things of quality, built to last, and food that is simple and delicious. I buy quality meats and bright, tasty produce. These things are not obvious, or showy, and not excessive in the way that trinkets or fancy shoes or a closet bulging with high-end clothing might seem.

Yet, as the hymn pierced my heart, I paid close attention to my soul, knowing full well that yes, I have vain little things that charm me most.

That stanza? It nudged me awake, bringing me back to Jesus, himself.


Not too long ago my husband and I went out to dinner with another couple. Afterward I came home and kicked off my heeled shoes, heated our teapot, and sighed–beyond happy to be home, introvert that I am.

I turned to Jon as he shuffled through the mail, and I told him that he had it easy, being married to me.

I ask for nothing compared to her, I said.

I know, he said.

Jon, she steamrolled her husband. Talk about beaten down! She was awful to him.

He nodded.

I thought about all of the things that the restaurant man had bought for the wife, who had shamelessly demanded it.

My eyes peered over my husband’s shoulder and into our living room. I studied our hand-me-down furniture, and gently worn carpet, and felt an irritation creeping in. The restaurant man had bought a roomful of brand-new furniture because his wife had put her foot down. Not only that, but they had also recently purchased–

I am wondering... I said aloud, and Jon looked up.

Maybe I do not ask for enough. I grew up asking for little…and I somehow intuited that it is wrong to ask for material things. But Jon, it is okay to wish for things, and to dream.

Kristin, he said, gently. Don’t ever be like her. You are on a far better path. Keep chasing God.

My eyes stung. He was right. That worn down consignment furniture, and carpet had been perfectly fine before dinner. This I knew.

Later, much later, I could not sleep as I turned over my husband’s words. Something nagged at me, and it was this: While perhaps I am not prone to bossing or demanding, I still have vain little things that charm me most, even if they are not obvious. And they don’t need to be obvious to be vain things that charm, do they?

How I long to chase God, and nothing more.

The Bible is perfectly clear. We are to be storing up treasures in heaven, and this means treasuring Christ Jesus more than anything. It is that simple, and that difficult.

I can be respectfully quiet and ask for precious little, yet long for much.

In Old Testament times God commanded the kings and rulers to demolish those high places, those places filled with idols that were not of God. Idols and high places and vain things must go. And when, with softened hearts we revere God alone as our High Place, our Strong Tower, and our Greatest Treasure, only then are we are able to thank him for allowing us to fully enjoy whatever he chooses to give to us or keep from us.

Like Job, we can bless God and truly say:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)

I know people who stockpile and overspend at the dollar store, buying 20 bottles of shampoo, and 30 boxes of band-aids, well…because. I know people who spend their wealth in a frenzy, gobbling up every new treasure and sparkly thing and it is never enough. I know people who skimp on birthday or Christmas gifts for others, stingy, in order to spend their money on themselves and their dreams and their bucket lists. I know people who spend and spend and spend in order to give gifts in a desperate attempt to buy another’s love. I know people who are charmed by social media, charmed by their self-made grandeur and others who are charmed by people-pleasing, lusting after affirmation.

And also? I know people just like me, who are charmed by quality furniture and books and little vain things.

It is all rotten fruit, born of the same root of discontent and idolatry, isn’t it?

There is a better way to live.

It is beautiful, and it is rare.

It is choosing the simple life of utter contentment, purposing to abide in Christ alone, with a heart full of gratitude and peace. This is what I am praying for, eager for, and striving to perfect.

If the apostle Paul was able to learn, than so can I.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13:


Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 16:19-21

4 thoughts on “All Those Vain Things

  1. Good Morning Kristin,

    This is my struggle, too! Only what charms me are old homes with good bones, barns, and sturdy fences corralling flocks of sheep. Farm life. We used to live in a wonderful 100 year-old-home with a huge stone barn and a creek meandering through the property. Three years ago we moved to a small ranch in town, and I have struggled since then with great discontent. I have made idols of barns and farmhouses! Talk about shedding bitter tears! My prayer is to be content and thankful, and to live a simple, quiet life, abiding in Jesus. To not have my prayers begin with “please Lord, give me……”

    Thank you for the encouragement this morning! Bless you as you go about your day.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Did you last the summer in that babysitting job?… Yesterday I gorged on yarn for dishcloths… because… new brand… new colours… another form of gluttony. I demonstrate my discontented greedy heart in thrift stores… while secretly applauding myself for my humble desires… Thank you for this earnest encouragement to
    ” a better way to live. It is beautiful, and it is rare.
    It is choosing the simple life of utter contentment, purposing to abide in Christ alone, with a heart full of gratitude and peace. This is what I am praying for, eager for, and striving to perfect. If the apostle Paul was able to learn, than so can I.”

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s