It's one of those days when I'm dissatisfied. I don't like what I look like. I don't like the stuff in my room. I don't like my boring life. I need more stuff to feel better. To feel new.
I go to the mall because it promises to help me. The Gap, Express, Gadzooks, Rave, American Eagle. I can't miss.
At Abercrombie and Fitch, the posters on the walls show clean-cut guys playing touch football with shiny-haired girls. They're having a blast in plaid shirts and khaki pants. One girl has a big sweatshirt tied casually around her thin waist—a cute tomboy. They're laughing in that picture, the clean-cut boys and the shiny-haired girls. They're having more fun in their Abercrombie and Fitch clothes than I've had in months.
At The Athlete's Foot, a picture of Michael Johnson hangs over a wall of running shoes. He's won his second Olympic gold medal while wearing his gleaming gold shoes. The message behind the image is clear: There's nothing greater in life than winning. With some hi-tech shoes of my own, maybe I'd feel like less of a loser.
At Contempo Casuals, the brown-and-green sweater on the skinny mannequin promises to make me look thin and trendy. The sales girls are so cool in their platform shoes and short skirts. If I looked like them, wearing that close-fitting brown-and-green sweater, I might have more dates.
At Rave, I see a girl with bleached hair and black lipstick. She's eyeing a green mini-skirt covered with sequins. I wonder what great party she'll wear it to. I wonder what's it's like to be that cool. But she hangs up the skirt and walks out of the store. And I notice something I hadn't seen when she was standing behind the rack of clothes.
I notice the bulky stroller she's pushing, the fussy baby who's sick of being confined. I notice the tired look in the mother's eyes, the way she walks toward a bench where she can rest for a minute and calm her baby.
And I realize she's probably not going to any great party. She can buy all the green mini-skirts in the mall, but she's still going home to her life as a teenage mother. Nothing in the mall can change that.
And I realize the mall can't change my life either. I don't think of myself as a materialistic person. In fact, I buy lots of my clothes at thrift stores. I drive an ugly old car. My friends even tease me about being cheap.
Still, I find myself wanting things. Not because I need them, but because they seem like they'll make me more interesting, more exciting. Like somehow, the stuff I own can change the life I have. When I look at the ads in magazines or on TV, that's what stuff promises me: A better life, a better me.
Yeah, I know it's just hype, but a part of me can't help but believe those promises are true—at least a little bit.
But I'd like to think I'm a lot more than my stuff. I'd like to think my friends like me because I'm funny, nice, and easy to talk to, not because I have cool clothes. I'd like to think I can like myself even though I don't have the latest music or the hippest shoes. I'd like to think I have value because I'm me, not because I have the "right" stuff.
When it comes down to it, I know that the promises of the mall are false, because I've been given another set of promises: God's promises. The mall tells me new clothes can make me more attractive, more acceptable to others. But God promises that I'm his wonderful creation (Psalm 139:14). Nothing I buy can improve on what he's created.
The mall tells me the stuff I buy can lift my spirits, make me feel better. And it can, for a little while. But God promises to comfort and restore me when I feel broken (Psalm 46). He promises to be there when I'm confused about the future, when my friends let me down, when I don't know where to turn for help.
The stuff I buy promises me a better life. But God promises me an abundant life (John 10:10), the best life possible. Eternal life. So where will I put my trust? Where will I find my value? Where will my heart be? With God, who keeps his promises.
It's easy to think materialism is all about money and possessions.
But when you look at what the Bible says, it's not the money or even the stuff itself that makes us materialistic. It's our attitude. The Bible says, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).
So how can you keep your attitude in check? Whenever you feel the urge to spend money, ask yourself:
1. Am I buying this so other people will like me? It's easy to try to buy acceptance. After all, it really does seem like the people with cool stuff are more popular. But real friends are more interested in who you are than in what you own (Proverbs 17:17).
2. Is buying this the best way to honor God with my money? When we have money, there are tons of great things we can do that really help other people. Take a lonely little kid to a movie, send flowers to your grandmother, buy a sandwich for someone who's hungry (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).
3. How would I feel if this thing were taken away from me? Life is pretty unpredictable. That's why God tells us to focus on the things that are eternal, like his love for us, and not on the temporary things of earth (1 Timothy 6:17).
4. Am I buying this to fill up some empty part of my life? Sometimes we count on material things to make our lives feel complete. But God is the only one who can really take care of our needs. When we trust in him, we can't help but feel satisfied (Philippians 4:11-13).
Written by Carla Barnhill
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