We live in a consumer culture, which is based on two principles:
"I deserve to be happy."
"I could be happy if I just tried a little bit harder."
That's what our culture sells us. We deserve to be happy, and the route to happiness is all around us. It's at the makeup counter, where blissful, beautiful women shine. It's at the travel agency, where frolicking couples head to the Bahamas. It's at the clothing stores, where ecstatic models drape themselves in the latest fashions. Happiness is easily attained, if only you buy the right stuff.
Then you buy it, and you're not happy.
Because you're still missing something. And the whole cycle starts again.
I've never really been into this cycle. I just couldn't be bothered to try to get the brand names, or the latest fad, or the best shoes. My biggest thrills tend to come from Thrift Store excursions, when I pick up a bunch of clothing that's perfect for my kids and light on my pocketbook. It makes me feel like I have conquered the world!
But just because I'm not into brand names does not mean that I haven't been sucked in by our culture as well. Think of how much you define your happiness by something you can pay for. When you're out with your children grocery shopping, and they've been particularly good, what do you say?
"Let's go get a treat!"
When you're at home and you're just really grumpy, what do you do to give yourself a pick-me-up?
"Let's go shopping!"
Even if it's just to the corner store to get a chocolate bar, or to the thrift store to get a new outfit.
And what is it that we do for fun? It's all things that cost money, like computers, and televisions, and boats, and restaurants. We have lost the art of just being, of just living, of just breathing in the glory of the day and the wonder of the people and relationships all around us. We have lost the beauty of revelling in God alone.
This consumer culture is very difficult to break out of, because we are so immersed in it. The Israelites, back in the Old Testament, used to get in trouble rather routinely because they started worshiping idols again. Did you ever read that in your Bible and think, "Boy, they must have had really low IQs back then to go to an idol when they had the God who parted the Red Sea with them the whole time!"
It's easy to judge a culture that lived 3,000 years ago, but I think we do the same thing. We have a God who has given us everything, but where do we turn for happiness? We usually turn to something that the wallet can buy, because we have bought into society's lies that "we deserve happiness", and the route to happiness is to try a little harder--to buy some more, to earn some more, to spend some more. It's always just a little more.
When you are attempting to survive on one income, feeling a little hard done by is a natural reaction, I think, because you aren't going to have those things that people now think of indispensable. You may not have your own cell phone, let alone an iPhone. You may not have your own personal laptop. You may not even have bedrooms for all your children, or a separate freezer, or a new van. You may not have all these things which every family "needs". But why did we ever decide that families needed these things?
What families need, I think, is time together. They need time to play and laugh and have fun and learn of each other. They need time to learn character lessons, to pray together, to explore God's creation, and little of that costs money. The best fun we can have is just being together and laughing together, and that is a joy few in this world know. For most families, togetherness is sitting at the same table while each person is on their individual iPhones. That's not right.
We live in a world that wants to keep us perpetually dissatisfied, because then it can sell us on the idea that to be satisfied all we have to do is buy one more thing. That's how our economy works. Do you think we all actually need all this junk? Of course not! But they're trying to sell it to us anyway. And much of the current crisis that we're in economically is because people thought they deserved everything, when they contributed very little. We are living beyond our means, and now the markets are catching up. We aren't saving; we're putting things on credit. We can't survive for long when it's all fictional. A new realignment will soon come, when people will be forced to live within their means again, and I think that's a good thing.
It means that over the next year or two, if we're lucky, frugality and responsibility may come back in style. It won't be about conspicuous consumption as much as it will be about keeping one's head above the water. And perhaps, as families realign their goals, they'll realize that all this stuff didn't keep us happy anyway. The more stuff you have, the harder you have to work to pay for it and to keep it up. How much better to work less and to still have time to read to your kids!
So if you're feeling dissatisfied, shake it off. It is not your fault. To feel dissatisfied is not necessarily a sin; I think it is more of a temptation in this world that is trying to sell us on constant dissatisfaction. To nurture dissatisfaction, though, is going down the wrong path. If you're sad about all the stuff you don't have, think about what you do. Think about how you don't have to be a slave to all of these things that you wish you could buy; instead you can be free to find more creative fun. Families usually do better that way, anyway.
A constant danger that was warned about in the Old Testament was that people would get fat and forget the Lord. They would have all they needed, and so wouldn't need Him. We have lived in a very fat age, and we have found that it does not satisfy. Take that realization as a good thing, and not as a disaster. Yes, this world is worrisome right now. Yes, the future is uncertain. But that just means that we're going to get back to what is important, and we'll be thrown back towards God. And maybe, just maybe, the next time we think of the word "treat", we won't pull out our wallets. We'll look down at a giggling todler and climb down on the floor with him and play airplane. Wouldn't that be fun?
Labels: parenting, saving, spending