Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was born into a respectable middle-class family in America.
As she played with her barbie dolls and ran throughout the house in her princess costume, everyday she could see a bumper sticker sitting on her dad’s bookshelf which read, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Her dad thought it was humorous.
That little girl grew and was taught good things about life – like how to succeed in school and how to be a friend and how to dance.
There were a lot of other things she was learning from other people – from the culture – even when she didn’t realize it. Like … the importance of buying a beautiful and expensive prom dress to impress friends. And that toys from last year are boring compared to this year’s version.
The message was that kids who live on the poor side of town may be nice, but you don’t want to hang out there. And that when you go out to eat on the school’s dollar – or someone else’s business dollar – to take advantage of it and buy the most expensive meal possible.
She learned that home decor may still be useful, but after a few years the “look” is old and boring and the room needs something fresh. She was taught that the more money a person made, the more important they were.
Nobody really said that, but the message was clear.
She was taught to not be satisfied with what she had in her closet when there were so many pretty, shiny things at the store to purchase. She was taught to go to the mall when she was bored, to shop for sport.
Of course, people didn’t say all those things outright. They said it with their actions.
Another Message – is it loud enough?
Well, that little girl is me.
And because I grew up in the church, I admit I heard other messages as well. Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you eat or wear.”
The missionary asked us to give sacrificially for a good cause. The pastor told us to tithe 10 percent. They said we should give to others because God had already given us so much.
And I believe it. I want to live generously.
But I live in America. And the message to Pursue More! and to Be Discontent with What You Have! is so much louder than Jesus’ call to share our possessions.
An adolescent’s solution
When I was in 9th grade, I remember deciding I would just have to be a missionary in rural South America.
I figured that was the only way I could escape the advertisements which claimed I was not complete until I had what they were offering, and television shows of people with fancy lifestyles, and the constant comparison between what I have and what others have.
I knew I could not stand against society’s messages alone, and I decided that my whole community had to be poor so that I could be okay with living simply. I know this was a strange thought. I was a strange girl.
What really happened
I ended up marrying a man who was not called to move to South America.
So here is my dilemma: I’ve never been very good about giving what I have. I have a hard time parting with “my” stuff.
I figured I should just be poor in the first place and then not worry about it.
But I am not poor. My husband kept getting these great jobs. And since the money was available to me anyway, I decided to go out to eat at nice restaurants. And I decided that I might as well use the money to do things I enjoy, like going on fancy trips.
The question of “What is enough?” has become “What is too much?” as I try to justify all the things that I own.
Now a parent
Now I’m a parent. How I live and what I model is affecting my children.
They have more than they could wish for. One of my husband’s favorite things to say is, “Are you a spoiled boy?” My two-year-old says, “Yes!” Not that he know what that means. He was trained to reply like that.
But some day he will understand. He’ll notice the disparity in our society. He’ll observe how much we as a family give versus how much we keep for ourselves.
We do give a tithe to the church. But that still leaves 90% of our money at our own disposal … and that leaves us with a lot of decisions to make.
There are a multitude of effects that our own consumer society has on our children. One psychotherapist’s study reveals that rampant materialism is making children meaner and more self-absorbed. We are turning out children with low empathy who become narcissistic adults.
I don’t want that.
Rather, I want my children to choose to become disciples of Jesus.
Jesus said disciples deny themselves. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” – Matthew 16:26
I don’t have the answers.
Well, I do. Kind of.
I know answers about ways to become more generous and how to pray so that my heart can begin to change.
But am I living out the answer? No. That’s much harder. I’m in the process. But I have a long way to go.
Question for you: Where have you noticed the battle between cultural consumerism and Jesus’ call to discipleship?