I have these days every now and then (which translates to “more often than not”) where I just want to lay my head on my desk and cry. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING feels so pointless. I just got back from Bolivia which is why I suspect this episode hit, but less than 12 hours after stepping off the plane and back into the “real world”, I was working on advertising contracts and sorting through piles and piles of catalogs full of Christian product. (You can slap a verse on anything and that makes it Christian in case you’re wondering.) The pile on my desk proudly displayed thousands of mugs, t-shirts, bracelets, Bible covers, journals, tote bags, water bottles, pen sets, gift books, pieces of framed art and pretty much every other novelty item under the sun. And suddenly, it really started to bother me. Not that those products are necessarily bad in and of themselves…I know they’ve been used in the lives of many to encourage and uplift during difficult times. It’s nice to have God’s Word displayed around your home and the stores that sell these products are ministry centers in their communities.
I felt sick as I stared at the colorful pages and wondered how we got so off base? Why do we need 25,548 mugs that cost $14.99 apiece when we all know that most people have more than they could ever use and that our cabinets and the mug sections at thrift stores are overflowing as a result? We throw around $15 like it’s nothing, while the thought probably never crosses our minds that the same $15 could save a life somewhere. What is it about us that even as believers and followers of Jesus, we feel that we need more? We have Bibles in every color, size, style, fabric, pattern, for every theme, hobby and interest, endorsed by every Christian artist or “star” and we collect them like baseball cards when the rest of the world treasures just one or two ripped pages of God’s Word and treats it like the treasure it is. What if instead of collecting Bibles like accessories to match every outfit, we actually cared more about the living words of God that they contained?
I thought about what Jesus would think of us and was ashamed. Does Christian product make us feel more Christian perhaps? There’s got to be some reason we spend millions, if not billions, of dollars a year on trinkets that sit on a shelf and when a new one comes out, we buy it too (and somehow feel good about ourselves) while our brothers and sisters around the world are dying without Christ. I think about the monstrous price tag on all the stuff that I own (even though I try to live simply) and want to hide my face. Just think of all the people we could help with the money we spend on pointless things. But it isn’t really about the money at all…it’s about our priorities.
Materialism has always been a struggle for me…for many years as one who was guilty of it and now as one who’s haunted by the faces of the destitute. Every time I land on America soil, I see the wealth of our country and it breaks my heart to the point of making me angry. But to be fair, I’ve seen things most people haven’t and I know I can’t fault them for living in the only world they know. And I completely get it. When I was younger, I used to spend everything I earned on clothes and shoes…it’s hard to believe it now, but I hate going to the mall. I can no long justify spending “only $89.99!” on some gotta-have-it dress when I know that same amount could feed 3 children, children whom I’ve seen with my own eyes, for a month.
Most times I feel caught between two worlds. I know for sure I’m where God wants me (trust me, I’ve asked multiple times and He’s confirmed) and while it’s not where I want to be, I trust He has a reason and I’m grateful for that even if I don’t understand it. But the life He’s given me requires me to dress nice for work, have a well-functioning (not new) car to get around, own a nice computer that can run expensive design software, etc. I feel like I’m playing on a stage as an actress cast for the wrong part. It creates a fine line of tension that I can’t seem to figure out. Who I am inside is a simple woman living in a jungle hut with 3 pair of clothes, no shoes and a purpose. Yet I’m not allowed to be that for now. I guess all I can do is live as simply as I can and be generous with what He’s blessed me with. As one of my dear pastor friends in Sudan reminded me, maybe God placed me in this land of wealth and privilege so that I can use what I have to advance the work of God around the world in places where poverty and hopelessness reign. God, I have to trust that You’re working and that there is a reason for my being in the place that I am. I pray that one day soon I will see why and can say, like Esther, for such a time as this. I know most won’t understand this post and may even feel that it’s harsh. It’s not my intention…I’m just sharing the battle within my heart.