the tension of consumerism

A couple weeks ago Mena and I were at Target fairly early in the morning. It was one of those rare instances in which we went in for one thing [dishwasher detergent] and came out with just that one thing. Nonetheless, the red bullseye kept up its time-warp reputation, and we managed to kill over an hour in the process.

The first half an hour was spent stalking the man cleaning the floors with an electric buffer. Philomena kept excitedly exclaiming, “mower! mower!” So, we followed the “mower.” Ordinarily, I would have attempted a more stealthy pursuit, but it was just one of those, “screw it, let’s unabashedly follow this guy all around Target” kind of days. I kept reassuring myself that he must be thinking, “aw, how precious!”…and not, “they don’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the crazies at 8 AM.”

After that novelty wore off, I decided to peruse the clothes. I had a gift card from my birthday that was burning a proverbial hole in my diaper bag. Maybe Tarjay has a great fall line this year, or maybe I just don’t get out enough, but for some reason I wanted to buy everything I saw. The wish list totaled significantly more than the gift card would allot. Frustrated, I pulled Philomena away from her beloved dressing room mirrors, and we checked out.

As I left the store, I had this restless feeling, a pit in my stomach. It remained for awhile, and it took some time for me to realize its cause. This sounds silly, but I was upset I couldn’t buy more that morning. I kept recalling “my single days” with a more disposable income and a professional reason to have a more extensive wardrobe, a time in which I wouldn’t think twice about buying a few new fall clothing items that struck me.

This is a familiar feeling. It creeps in when I read fashion blogs or home decorating magazines. I tell myself I’m reading them to be creatively “inspired,” but really I just like looking at pretty things. And yet, that moment inevitably comes in which the looking becomes wanting which becomes frustration that it can’t be having.

To be more specific, the true restlessness that emerged that Target morning was not that I couldn’t afford a whole new wardrobe, but rather the fact that I wanted it. Does that make sense? I was disturbed by that consumeristic pull inside of me…to want more things. 

I’m not saying that wanting “things” is wrong, of course. But when that becomes a predominant thought, or when not having them causes you sadness (as it did for me in a little way that silly morning)…it’s time for a reality check.

And mine came later that afternoon.

Every week when I drive to pick up our CSA share of veggies, I take the same street. I suppose I vaguely knew that I always drove by the Lord’s Diner, a local soup kitchen run by our diocese. On this particular day, my timing coincided with the line forming for the dinner crowd.

Suddenly I was struck by the irony. Here I was driving a few miles to pick up specialty, organic vegetables [translation: expensive] while for most of these people, this would be their only meal of the day. I started to think about the ridiculousness of the blessings in my life, namely that I’ve never truly wanted for anything essential. I mean, really, I *take pictures* of my food for fun. Ugh.

In this moment, I was moved by more than just ordinary middle-class guilt. It was something deeper. I felt that tension that is always inside of me, probably inside of most of us: the interplay between the consumeristic mentality that is entrenched in our culture, our mindset, our hearts…and that deep, profound gratitude for truly wanting for nothing.

I don’t have an answer to this conflict. Maybe it’s not a conflict? Perhaps I need those moments of disgust with myself over wanting a stupid gold and navy scarf I shouldn’t be buying right now. I suppose it’s that kind of frustration that brings me head-on with the reality that my life is, indeed, quite luxurious. And perhaps that encounter with the truth will provoke a gratitude that should have been there all along.

“Learn from the way the wild flowers grow….If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”



14 thoughts on “the tension of consumerism

  1. Ah yes, know the feeling well. And yet can’t help but think that the struggle is a grace… At least we are resisting on some level. If we weren’t bothered at all, I would be more concerned. Love you Sarah (and love the new look! Glad you are still writing).

  2. Totally with you! I pray all the time, not for more income (although we probably could use that) but so we will not be possessed by our possessions! Good for you only buying what you went in for!!! I often wonder if this is a major problem with many middle-class (upper-class) Americans today. Life is too easy!! We knit-pick and obsess over stupid things that really do not matter simply because we are bored since we do not have to wear ourselves out anymore doing the old-time chores of water carrying, vegetable growing, laundry at the river, etc Plus we have so much information and so many opportunities (often for good wholesome things like sports and hobbies and such) that life is just down-right overwhelming!!

    • Really good point Mary. Wouldn’t it be entertaining (said the bored middle class white guy) to make a blog from the perspective of a serf in the Middle Ages. THAT would put all my little petty issues in their place.

      BUT. I am a middle class white guy so I greatly enjoyed this post, Sarah. The best kind of post. Some good chuckles and very thoughtful. I haven’t shopped at the mall in over a decade now, but a year or so, I had to walk through and it IS alarming how much that feeling of “I want that! and that! That looks cool. And I NEED that!” comes back. I think it is my distaste for that feeling that makes me dislike going shopping anymore. I don’t like reminders that I am not strong and that my will power is so wobbly-kneed in the face of Lowes power tool aisle.

      (I wrote that last sentence to make me feel more manly commenting on a blog about shopping at Target, which makes me just as weak-spirited as Lowes to be bluntly honest.)

  3. Great thoughts. I don’t think I’ve *ever* gone into Target (or any store really…) and gotten just one thing OR just what I went for. There is so much angst to be had here, really ;)

    I think you are totally right, though, that gratitude is the right response, the antidote, as it were.

    Keep it coming, and lovely new header pics (although I always liked the other one) :)

  4. Yes, I think this is why I hate shopping more as I get older and ‘wiser’ and know more about the needs of the world outside of my own. It’s easy to be made to feel guilty about just about anything we do these days. That said, I keep getting reminders that it’s not just the ‘material’ things that ‘poor people’ lack…it’s the spiritual poverty that we all suffer from that needs to be addressed first.
    Now I’m going to feel guilty about taking pictures of food…;)

    • No, that is so true….of course spiritual poverty is in a sense more important. And for me, it’s more than just “feeling guilty”…it’s about letting that restlessness bring me closer to the truth of their lives, of our lives.

  5. Funny I read this today. Keiran (my husband) got a very generous pay raise. It came as a relief, but we were and could survive without it. Thoughts of clothes, redoing the floors of the house, paying off medical bills, finally landscaping the backyard came to my head. Excitedly. Then Grace ( as others put it) entered and said “tithe more to the church”.

    I’m thankful for my faith…nudging me, knocking on my heart to go deeper. May we always seek faith and grace in our lives. Thanks for the post.

  6. Pingback: superficial rant {fashion} | sarahunfiltered

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