The Christmas Season just finished up and it is not hard to see how materialistic our consumer society really is. I generally try to stay out of the stores since I’ve found the best way to prevent myself from overspending is to not tempt myself walking though the store aisles. I am fortunate that my wife has much more self-control while shopping than I do, so she usually handles the purchasing. While thinking about what motivates me to buy something, I came up with the following non-exhaustive list:
First is need:
I just wore a hole in my old shoes. I better get a new pair.
Sometimes it’s want:
I’m tired of looking at these shoes, the new style is way cooler.
It could be pride:
I must have better shoes than my friends.
… or even vanity:
I have to look good in my shoes so people will envy me.
It can even be self-worth:
I want people to notice my expensive shoes so they will think I am successful and respect me.
So maybe it’s not shoes
In a practical sense, the first reason (need) is the only wise reason to buy anything. However, the other motivations can show us something about ourselves. If the example of shoes above seems somewhat facetious, feel free to substitute in your own “thing”. It might be clothes, or a tennis racquet, maybe a kitchen renovation? In our consumer driven society, most of us struggle with this on some level, sometimes on a daily basis. A personal example was my car. At 11 years old, my 2003 Dodge SX 2.0, got me from place to place, but I sometimes felt ashamed to drive it. On a few occasions I found myself parking a few blocks away and walking to a meeting so that the others in attendance wouldn’t see me get into such an old car. Similarly, when I parked at the college, I worried that one of my students would see me get into the car and think I wasn’t successful and therefore wouldn’t think I was worth listening to. To my knowledge, none of these things actually happened, but for some reason it still bothered me knowing it “could” happen. You see, even though the car looked fine and ran well (most of the time), I somehow entangled my self-worth with this material possession.
God tells us many times what our worth is. The Bible says we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14) and that God has put His mark on us as one of His possessions:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
-Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV-
With so many options in fashion, cars, houses and even smart-phone cases, marketers condition us to believe how we present ourselves is who we are and what we are worth. At times I still struggle with detaching who I am from what I own. At the end of the day, my pride, vanity and self-worth can motivate me to waste my money on things that do not matter. At the same time, they also distract me from the fact that my true worth is not “self” at all, but worth attributed to me from God. He paid full price for each one of us, now that’s a “worth” that’s worth talking about!