Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Treasures on Earth

A year ago I was an unmarried twenty-something living in Chicago and working at a major university. I took hour-long lunches on the shore of Lake Michigan every day, made a decent salary, and worked with lovely people. Although that sounds like the finish line of a goal for most modern women my age, every calculated move I made was part of a strategic escape plan.

I was engaged, planning a wedding, then moving to Ohio to be closer to family and to pump the brake on my frenetic pace. My then fiancĂ© Joe and I were saving every penny for the wedding, the state-to-state move, and to buy our first home. We spent months praying and waiting to hear God’s will for our lives. I went without cable or internet in my apartment, traded my gym membership for pilates dvd’s, and fasted from restaurant dining. Somehow none of this was that much of a struggle since I was so excited about reaching our goals, and because I had so much more quiet time with God. This sort of simplicity in the sprawling, materialistic city felt nothing short of triumphant, as if I had conquered a beast.

No designer label could elevate me to this position. No fancy phone or gadget could make me feel like a part of this club. Material comfort items could never compare to a relationship with our God who comforts.

I thought my feeling of stability in this position of fulfillment would last. Joe and I thought that a move to Ohio would mean a simpler life, respite from the hyper consumerism of Chicago. How wrong we were! Perhaps we let our guard down, but how could we be prepared for this? After all, we moved to the suburbs, not an idyllic Amish community.

Now our nearest grocery store is one of those mega-supermarkets—on my way in to pick up bread and milk, I pass armchairs, craft supplies, and everything in between. Convenience and mass production abound, and credit card offers are all too common. It seems like everyone around me has an expensive hair style, trendy clothes, and a Vera Bradley bag.

When I feel my resolve wavering I look to scripture like this passage from Matthew 6:

19Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I recognize my tendency to seek comfort from small purchases like magazines, beauty products, and decorations for our house. Then I pour more of my heart into my relationship with God and remind myself that impulse items provide only fleeting satisfaction. Yet, the lure of “stuff” persists.
When I fail to draw the application from scripture to practice, I look to my grandmother. She’s lived a life of simplicity, stewardship and patience. Have you ever heard of testing your attitude by slipping your name in place of the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? My grandmother is the only person I know who passes.
Grandma is patient, Grandma is kind. She does not envy, she does not boast, she is not proud. She is not rude, she is not self-seeking, she is not easily angered, she keeps no record of wrongs. She does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. She always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I’m so lucky to know someone like her who has lived simply, partly out of necessity, but always gracefully. You can imagine my surprise last weekend when my sweet, eighty-four-year-old grandma looked at my sister’s designer bag, pointed and said excitedly, “Is that a Vera?”

Et tu, Grandma? Not only had she correctly identified the designer, but she also referred to her on a first-name basis as if they were old gal pals. Apparently Grandma’s appreciation for designer quilted bags developed earlier that week when she received a catalog in the mail. My uncle offered to buy one for her, but she insisted that they were too expensive.

It’s funny to lump my precious grandma in with the masses of culture that rely on “stuff” to elevate status. It makes me check my attitude on this issue: am I a little too gratified in my abstinence? Maybe people just like certain things because they are handy products, or useful, or pretty. In my grandma’s case, I think she probably just appreciates the look and function of the quilted bags.
I am learning that simplicity is a delicate balancing act—like most aspects of Christian life. A holier-than-thou attitude about simplicity is just as sinful as a life consumed by consuming. My revised resolve looks more like this: I will continue to resist clever advertising while I pray for sincerity in my endeavors. I will seek comfort and fullness only from my Creator, and be a wise steward of the resources He provides. And I’ll probably buy a lovely quilted bag for my grandma this Mother’s Day.

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