Monday, June 25, 2012

Materialism and the Race

Dear Friends,

One step in breaking the chains of busyness may lie in coming to a clearer understanding of what we are busy doing. One thing which is so easy to do, amid the incessant inflow of advertisements, unrealistic images of "important" individuals, and wealthy caricatures of the American family, is to chase stuff.

Let's ask ourselves seriously if our stuff is a hindrance to our godliness. 

I was reading Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper (which I have finished, and have begun rereading in parts). The story of Esther Ahn Kim contained a few principals concerning the way she faced persecution and temptation. Along with prayer, worship, generosity "with good things, not just leftovers", memorizing scripture, and "listening to people's stories about trouble and God", Mrs. Piper also listed "practicing living simply." I'm reminded of how Esther Ahn Kim prepared herself for persecution by eating rotten apples.

And at one point in her lengthy stay in prison (that is, "several years of cold, illness, and starvation"), as so many fellow saints died of this starvation, she began craving those rotten apples she had grown to endure years earlier. She craved and prayed. And so she was saved when God orchestrated the delivery of rotten apples to her cell. What would have happened, I wonder, if she had only awaited her imprisonment with creme brulee and ristretto-shot, light foam lattes, that were not quite up to standard? What if she had spent her days reading fashion blogs, obsessing over Kate Middleton, and complaining about her manicurist's inability to get her nails just right?

I'm also reminded of War and Peace, when dear Pierre Bezhukhov (the quirky, yet ever- theologically-seeking hero) considers how a man is just as discontent with a crumpled petal in his bed of roses as he is when living as a P.O.W. without shoes in the dead of winter, and trying to sleep on the cold ground.

 "He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together; that the person in a bed of roses with one crumpled petal suffered as keenly as he now, sleeping on the bare damp earth with one side growing chilled while the other was warming; and that when he had put on tight dancing shoes he had suffered just as he did now when he walked with bare feet that were covered with sores- his footgear having long since fallen to pieces."

Once again: "... and be content with what you have," echoes from Hebrews 13:5.  There is a lofty command.

Janet Luhrs, author of The Simple Living Guide, writes,

"A certain level of material comfort is necessary... The trouble is, most of us don't know when to stop."

She continues on a well-articulated and much needed rant on our obsession with silly stuff,

"Pasta machines. Absolutely. In this day and age, everyone has time to make homemade pasta.Who are we kidding? I don't care how great the stuff tastes. When was the last time you used yours? Electric can openers. In my humble opinion, these have always been the paragon of a life gone junk bad.  This is one item I never could understand. Hold all phones everywhere- we can't open cans with a hand crank? We can't?"

Plato once said, "In order to seek one's own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life." Simplify. Lower your need for comfort. Challenge yourself with less.

Chuck the clutter. And while we're at it, let's stop watching the commercials, listening to the ads, gazing at the billboards. Stop watching the wine sparkle in the glass if you're trying to drink less wine. Let's refrain from window-shopping. While I love Pinterest for its abundance of inspiration, craft how-to's, and collection of artwork and cleverness, I am getting more than a little tired of all the "stuff" that is pinned as, "must-haves." Really?

Do we really have the time to hunt down ideas of things to want and need and covet? Do we need help coveting? Do we need a cyberspace to collect all the things we covet, and to spend time organizing and renaming our groups of wanted stuff?

Continuing on the line of materialism, Randy Alcorn writes in "Money, Possessions, and Eternity" (a favorite book that Shyla so graciously lent to me about a year ago, and which still remains hostage in my home),

"Seeking fulfillment in money, land, houses, cars, clothes, boats, campers, hot tubs, world travel, and cruises has left us bound and gagged by materialism- and like drug addicts, we pathetically think that our only hope lies in getting more of the same. Meanwhile, the voice of God- unheard amid the clamor of our possessions- is telling us that even if materialism did bring happiness in this life, which it clearly does not, it would leave us woefully unprepared for the next life."

And back to Luhrs,

"When you are in a store and get the urge to buy some gadget or other, ask yourself what it really will mean over the long haul. You will need to do something with this item. You will need to put it somewhere, you will need to clean it, repair it, and so on. "

She goes on to break down how an expensive item requires an extensive amount of time at work (possibly a job we don't love or feel called to be in) to purchase, to pay for the repairs, the cleaners, the accessories, etc. Stuff is not only acquired by the price listed on the sticker.

Luhrs also points out, "I've never heard anyone say they just love to do errands. Never. Yet a big reason for errands is our stuff- in the buying, maintaining, repairing, or storing." We will invest energy in thinking about it, worrying about it if there is a storm or a fire or a new housemaid, etc. We will be tempted to consider how this item will look to our friends, how important they will consider us when they see us using it, etc.

And last, but not least, I must point out that spending money on temporal stuff (as Randy Alcorn eloquently writes about at length in said book, which you must read), takes away from spending money on missions, takes away spending time in serving one another and the Church, takes away from being generous and hospitable, and ultimately from dwelling on the loveliness of Christ and enjoying His presence in peace.

"Be still and know that I am God." (Ps 46:10). Friends, this needs to fit into our daily schedule.

Hebrews 12:1

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." 

Yes and Amen! Let's throw it off and run with abandon!

Cheers and God bless,
Natasha W.

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