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Asking the Clergy: Want and need

How can parents teach their children the difference between want and need?

The Rev. William Brisotti, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Wyandanch:

First, the parents have to deal with it themselves. We as a society have an unnatural need to replace something that is working perfectly well just because a new gadget has been produced. You have to communicate away from this concept. There a saying: "I live simply, so others may simply live." Coveting, which is mentioned in the Bible, is definitely a want rather than a need. Food when you're starving is a need; a new telephone is a want.

There are so many people who are starving, who don't have jobs or jobs that don't pay a living wage - that's what we need to remind and teach our children. Ask your children to tell you what are basic needs. See if you know. See if they know.

In addition to the basics, there's a need for love, support, the experience of generosity. These are things kids need but might not even say they want. We have experience in our outreach office with parents in poverty situations and in distress where we really have to unravel want from need.

The heart of the matter is that you really must talk to your child, not just at Christmas but the entire year. That's how you solve the problem, with regular communication all year long.

Rabbi Myron Fenster, Congregation Tifereth Israel of Greenport:

By example: Thou shalt teach the word of the Torah diligently. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:7: "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." That means that diligent teaching is not only by speech or professing ideals, it is by living them as well.

We live in a consumeristic society. What is new, fresh and trendy is very often the most desirable. Religion should be pointing us to core values and not just transitory whims. That's the difference between want and need.

When the Bible says thou shalt not covet, which goes back about 3,500 years, it shows this inability to distinguish want from need has always been a part of our society. People think they need things that they don't.

Coveting is absolutely the point of want and need. When I was a kid, I saw a yacht and thought it looked so sleek. And, I thought that was just what I needed. Now, I realize that would have been the biggest burden in my life.

The Rev. Clare Nesmith, executive director of Episcopal Charities of Long Island and deputy for stewardship, Garden City:

This is a good question for me because of what I do. Parents need to start with themselves - looking at the difference between their own wants and needs and how they as a family can share with others who are in need.

Then, as a way of experiencing with their children, participating together in an activity like feeding those who are hungry, sharing clothing and collecting and sharing toys for those who have none, etc. When we teach them, children are often better about this than adults and continue to remind us of what we have taught them. Teach them by having them share with those who truly are in need. If we teach them young, they'll keep us on our toes.

Pastor Jeff Wells, Community United Methodist Church, Massapequa:

It is OK to want some good things in life. But "want" is a treacherous road that can lead to a place called "never enough." Wanting in itself is not bad, but if you let it control your life, you get away from core Christian values - to be generous, to be giving to others, to be caring.

Let's go beyond teaching "want versus need" to teaching gratitude for what we have and generosity toward others. Jesus did not say, "Grab as much for yourself as possible." He said, "If anyone wants your shirt, give your cloak, too. Give to everyone who begs from you." He taught that we can find joy and fulfillment by giving of ourselves for others.

At our church, we demonstrate this for our kids by continually caring for those who are vulnerable or in need, through food collections, clothing donations, Christmas gifts . . . . We also teach our youth to give a portion of their allowance or earnings to God's ministries through the church. In these ways, we teach kids to view themselves not by how much they have or want, but by how generous they can be.

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