Confessions of a Material
By Andrea Bailey
-- One day it dawned on me, after years of defending my twin obsessions
with shopping and material goods, that something in my life was off kilter.
As a Christian, I’m vaguely conscious that my self-worth does not come
from wealth and possessions, but I have literally bought stock in this propaganda.
Habitual shopping garners an array of “but it was on sale” clothing
and shoes I do not need and have no room for in my closet. I buy something
new almost every day, although price tags still dangle from the populace of
my closet recesses. I subscribe to multiple fashion magazines -- my eyes barely
grazed last month’s glossy cover before another issue is crammed into
my mailbox. I am always accompanied by my bulging makeup kit for emergency
touchups; I cannot go five minutes without applying one of fifteen lip glosses,
and I certainly can’t part with my cell phone, which has extreme amounts
of features, numbers and minutes. The funny thing is, it’s never enough.
My life is ruled by my cravings for more, more and more.
After another shopping spree followed by another bout of self loathing, I
read Matthew 19:21-22 (The Message), in which a young man questions Jesus
about what he must do to get eternal life: "If you want to give it all
you've got," Jesus replied, "go sell your possessions; give everything
to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me."
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen,
he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't
bear to let go.
I was alarmed by the directness of the missive. It was indefinite whether
God was asking me to transport the collective contents of my apartment to
the Goodwill or just ponder a deeper lesson to be learned here -- the wrongness
of putting your faith and finding your self-worth in your possessions. I had
to plead guilty of both charges. If Jesus flat out asked me to give up my
stilettos, highlights, iPod and credit cards (boys insert: cars, motorcycles,
power tools, video games, CDs or season tickets) so I could better serve Him
with my time and money, I might have to be knocked unconscious to release
the death grip I have on my stuff. Clearly, I needed to rearrange my priorities
and convert from materialism to minimalism.
Ah, minimalism. I immediately had a vision of a white room occupied by a
single piece of utterly sterile furniture. I thought about getting rid of
everything from my past life and starting over with a visit to Ikea. But minimalism,
beyond celebrity-friendly décor, is the act of dwelling in simplicity.
It is a laying down of burdens, a clean, uncluttered way of being. I’ve
always been fascinated by the un-Paris-Hilton-like quality of a truly simple
life, the art of minimalist living. It just seemed so … impossible.
Since I really wanted to trust the Lord instead of turning to retail therapy,
I decided to buckle down and minimize. First I culled the unnecessary items
from my closet and dropped off half my wardrobe at the local thrift store.
Although it was hard to part with certain articles, I breathed an audible
sigh of relief as I unloaded the garbage bags. Then I limited my spending
for the next month to food and automotive repair (sure enough, my car broke
down), with absolutely no shopping trips. The money I would have spent on
clothes was halved between my savings account and a ministry in Africa that
had particularly touched me. I went to the grocery store to buy bulk basics
to discourage eating out and let my magazine subscriptions expire, since they
mostly created a seething pit of envy in my stomach. And reluctantly, I experimented
with not wearing makeup or using styling aids on my hair, although this lasted
less than a day.
From a global perspective, these small acts seem silly. It’s embarrassing
that I have to train myself to live modestly. But in our culture, minimalism
requires intentionality, a choice to not live in excess. Let’s face
it: piling up possessions is what our country is all about, but it’s
just not what’s important to the kingdom of God. Jesus promises to clothe
His children as He does the lilies of the field, if we will just not worry
about it. I have to remind myself every day that in His eyes, clean hands
and a pure heart are far more beautiful than outward appearance.
The point is not subjecting myself to total deprivation or washing my hair
with a bar of soap. It’s more about letting what matters to Jesus be
impressed on my heart, rather than what the world tells me I should have in
my collection. I changed my priority from staying abreast of the trends to
honoring Him, and it became much easier to discern how He wanted me to spend
my precious time and money. Ironically, when I was walking with the Lord,
I didn’t need to buy a new outfit with a matching purse to feel happy
and whole. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
(Matthew 6:21, NIV).
Living simply helps us avoid putting our faith in all of our stuff. Am I
the only one who sits on a plane nervously calculating the net worth of her
suitcase? God wants to be our security, our delight and our reason to live,
but when He is not, we fall prey to a life of mindless grasping. As in every
facet of our existence, putting the Lord first simplifies everything, relegating
each minor detail to its proper place. Our lives are to be spent in the pursuit
of one thing -- not two, four or 95. “One thing I ask of the Lord: this
is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of
my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple”
(Psalm 27:4, NIV).
Andrea Bailey is a freelance writer for Relevant
Magazine. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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