Skip to content ↓

Looking in the Picture Frame

Last Christmas coincided with the start of my new job as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church. This meant that for the first time in many years I was working outside of the home. My Christmas gift from Aileen and the kids was a digital picture frame, something that would keep me thinking about them even while I was at the office. I loaded it up with pictures and keep a slideshow going most days I work at the church.

I love having the pictures there, of course. But here’s the thing: We aren’t much for photography around the Challies home, and tend to haul out the camera only at special occasions. It just so happens, then, that the majority of the photos I see every day have been taken at birthdays and Christmas. Many of the shots show a child opening something. You can see the look of excitement and anticipation on the child’s face. If the shot is a wide one you might be able to spot mom or dad there, eager to catch the look of joy as the child sees that gift—that one gift he or she wanted to badly.

In most of those photos the wrapping paper has been removed enough that you can see the present beneath. It began with trucks (our son was born first), then went to Playmobil and then dolls and Lego and tea sets and easels and all kinds of other things. We do not go overboard on these occasions, but we do like to get each of the kids at least one thing they really want. So there are 10 Christmases represented there, and 24 birthdays, and all sorts of gifts.

But here’s the thing. I look at those pictures, the pictures of the presents, and realize that they are almost all long gone. They’ve all been forgotten and thrown away. Most of them, anyway. The Playmobil fell apart, the kids grew tired of it, and eventually we freecycled it. My son got bored of the trucks and we gave them to a friend. Or maybe they’re in a box somewhere in the basement. The dollhouse was just a cheap one and it didn’t last. All those things that were so exciting in the moment ended up lost and forgotten, tossed to the curb.

To be honest, I find it kind of sad and plenty convicting.

Recently I’ve been convicted of my own propensity to seek to spend my way into happiness or fulfillment. I’m no shopaholic and more often than not I do not buy the things I find myself drawn to. So it’s not the act of buying that disturbs me as much as the pull I feel. When life is busy I feel like buying that new device or that new piece of software will restore order. When I’m bored or feeling down, I find myself turning to the Best Buy catalog, just browsing, hoping to notice something that will make all the difference.

Of course it never does make that difference. It promises life but eventually delivers more frustration. Yes, there are exceptions. Sometimes a new piece of software really is key. But more often than not it is just another doomed and futile attempt to buy my way into happiness.

When I look at those old photographs I see joy. True joy. There is genuine joy in giving and receiving a gift. I see good and treasured memories. But I also see the futility of seeking to find any lasting happiness in stuff. The things we dream of and long for so often become the things we kick to the curb. It’s true for my kids and their toys; it’s true for me and my toys.


  • The Glorious End without the Difficult Means

    The Glorious End without the Difficult Means

    Just as Olympic athletes cannot realistically expect to win a gold medal unless they strictly discipline themselves toward victory, Christians cannot hope to prevail in the Christian life unless they take a serious, disciplined approach to it. Yet lurking in the background is always the temptation to hope that we can have the result of…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (June 15)

    A La Carte: Learn to rest in God’s justice / 3 reasons why your small group is not a church / How can I be a godly father? / Gender in the void / Are images of Christ OK? / The getting of wisdom / and more.

  • Making Good Return

    Making Good Return

    I don’t think I am overstating the matter when I say that this has the potential to be one of the most important books you will read. It’s a book that may shape years of your life and transform the way you carry out one of the key roles God assigns to you…

  • A La Carte Friday 2

    A La Carte (June 14)

    A La Carte: 3 steps to find your voice / 7 things good dads say / One day leads to another / Let’s stop hyper-spiritualizing counseling / Enjoying the many flavors of the Word / What I wish you understood about the ethnic-specific church / and more.

  • A Whole Batch of New Books for Kids

    A Whole Batch of New Books for Kids

    Every month I put together a roundup of new and notable books for grownup readers. But I also receive a lot of books for kids and like to put together the occasional roundup of these books as well. So today I bring you a whole big batch of new books for kids

  • A La Carte Thursday 1

    A La Carte (June 13)

    A La Carte: Were the earliest Christians illiterate? / Our new religion isn’t enough / Why do evil and suffering exist? / The missing ingredient in too many marriages / Is Genesis literal or allegorical? / The death of fear / and more.