Thanksgiving dinner had just ended when someone asked if I was going to Target’s 10 p.m. sale.
I wasn’t, but the irony slapped me hard. Here we had been, moments before, involved in the great American tradition of going around the table expressing immense gratitude for our blessings and, before the whipped cream hit the pumpkin pie, we were worrying whether we would be able to get to Target in time to buy Candy Land for $5.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve just finished reading Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity that I’m hyperaware of such discrepancies. Or maybe it’s because my love language is gifts and reading Foster’s book has pricked my conscience extra hard during the gift-giving pinnacle of the year.
I talk about the addiction to “more” in a chapter of my new book, Humpty Dumpty Just Needed a Nap: What Children’s Stories Teach Us About Life, Love, and Mothering. In this passage I liken the Fisherman’s Wife’s discontent with each bigger and better house with my own discontent with our (former) big house and big lifestyle, both of which became a big headache:
“What the Fisherman’s Wife didn’t realize is that more is just that … more. More to store. More to pick up. More to keep track of. More to manage. More to lose. … More is an unending path with no satisfying destination. More only leads to more. And, sometimes, that ‘more’ is just more trouble.”
So, why do we do it? Why do we accumulate so much stuff that we can’t even walk through our hallways without turning sideways? What psychological and spiritual hole are we trying to fill by acquiring more and more and more? (Or, on the flip side, what is our addiction to accumulation costing us? Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, authors of the book Stuff spell out the cost in heart-rending detail: Our mental and physical health. Peace of mind. Relationships. Sometimes even our lives.)
In his book, Foster says we fill our lives with stuff because we are not comfortable in our own skin:
“The less comfortable we are with ourselves, the more we will look to things around us for comfort. … [W]e are told time and again that if we will only buy this product or have that experience, all will be well.”
Ownership of “stuff” is not forbidden in Scripture, which means we can head to the pre-Christmas sales with a clean conscience. But before we unload trunkload after trunkload of goodies into our homes, perhaps we ought to clarify in our own hearts just why we are buying what we are buying. If it is to delight a toddler on Christmas morning, grand. But if it is to fill some hole inside us, to impress our friends, to cushion us from pain, to, in essence, be our “savior,” we need to check ourselves. True contentment can’t be bought—even at Target.