Advice on Materialism
By Ingrid Lawrenz
Money, or the lack of it, is a perennial problem for families. It’s so easy to buy into the American dream that money will bring us happiness. There’s always an emotional aspect to our finances. Buying into the American dream promotes the elusive fantasy that money brings happiness, and that just a little more than what you have right now will be enough.
We often feel a hunger and emptiness that drives us. We want to fill it with more: more money, more food, more romance. However, trying to fill this desire for more, this hole, is futile. Edward, in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, could never be satisfied with enough Turkish taffy. He always wanted more. Likewise, we think more will satisfy us. We feel deprived, we feel deserving, we ache, and we nervously fret for more. Some women even become severely depressed, feeling caught in a black hole of emptiness. But “enough” never comes, unless we confront the lie itself. The Bible calls this a “continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19). Even Adam and Eve wanted more. They ate from the forbidden tree because Satan lied to them. Wanting more, they ended up with less.
This longing for more is the earthly symptom of incompleteness and sin this side of glory. It’s a frame of mind more than a circumstance. The desire for more is sometimes that universal hunger for heaven, a longing for the only One who can truly fill us – God Himself. We can be satisfied, fulfilled, and content with Christ.
Of course, real financial problems are difficult, so the Bible exhorts the church to generously provide for its leaders. However, our discontent often comes when we make comparisons and when we envy. As missionaries or pastors’ wives we cannot begin to compare or compete with the wealthy in our congregations. We have followed a sacrificial call into ministry. If we are angry about this, we need to take our feelings to God instead of blaming our husbands.
John Stuart Mill said, “I have learned to seek my happiness not by trying to fulfill all my desires but by limiting them.” What a novel idea! We need to train our appetites, not be driven by them. We’re surrounded by so much stuff and so many opportunities. Most of it is good, but it’s more than we can humanly afford or can fit into our schedule. Even our children are bombarded with so many sports, lessons and activities that they can forget how to just relax and play. Limiting our expansive desires and interests can lead to peace.
Lord, deliver me from envy and the lust for more. Fill me with the hope of Your fulfillment instead. Help me to lead a God-filled, not a stuff-filled, life. Please help me to be content with what I have so I can focus on realities of greater value. Amen.
Joseph Novello, in his book The Myth of More, says, “I desire to want what I have and not want what I do not have.” Think about that – wanting what you already have – and not desiring more. Shopping, planning, and hunting for sales and coupons produces adrenaline, but returning, storing, cleaning, rearranging, and moving them all take our precious life energy. The “stuff” can control us. We can become dependent on our belongings, feeling obliged to use them and take care of them.
Challenging the myth that more makes us happy can lead to a reframing of our lives. “Who” is more important to us than “what”. Think of what we could do with the extra time we would have if we were no longer handling so much stuff!
Practically speaking, there is peace in simplicity. A couple of nice-looking outfits are better than a stuffed closet. The bulging closet brings the stress of choosing what to wear, what fits, what matches, and what to wear occasionally to justify buying it in the first place. It may take a little humility, but is pride worth the price?
Consider borrowing or renting instead of buying. For example, renting a boat, a trailer, mountain bikes, or other things we occasionally use, will not only save money but will save us hours of upkeep and storage. Ask if owning them will actually bring contentment or extra anxiety.
Jesus said He neither had a home nor bed of His own. He lived a simple life. People mattered to Him, as did doing the will of His Father in heaven. Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the myth of more. Satan promised, “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). Ironically, as with all of Satan’s lies, Jesus would not have gained more, He would have lost everything.
It is a blessing to have enough money to live without fear. Yet, we need to be wise and discerning about what we need and what we chase after to gain happiness. The seminary years are usually a sparse and tense time of life; but it seems that as soon as the fear of survival ends, the lust for fulfilling all desires enters. It is then that credit card bills can get out of control. Debt can cause far more stress, and outweigh any pleasure we may get from the things we buy.
Learning to live as a spiritual being in this physical and material world is a perennial problem. Jesus spoke to this issue when He challenged us to build up heavenly treasure that will not be destroyed by moth or rust. We need His help daily.