My Only Real Need

Earlier this year, I went on a mission trip to Jamaica with my three teenage girls. I came home from that trip deeply sobered by the embarrassingly-rich way in which we Americans live. That one-week experience of being dropped into an entirely different culture may not have changed everything I do, but it for sure had an impact on how I think about my possessions, how I spend my money, and how often I say “I need” when referencing just about anything.

I got up at 3:00 a.m. earlier today to take our three girls out hunting for “Black Friday” deals, the official start to the 2010 Christmas shopping season, and we wandered around various stores for nearly five hours before heading home in time for breakfast. So, I guess it’s not surprising I feel worn out. Not from lack of sleep, though; I felt worn out by the battle going on for my heart’s affection – the earthly and temporal calling to my restless heart.

I walked out of the first store this morning with two plastic shopping bags of deeply-discounted items. As I walked out and threw the two bags into my van, preparing to drive to another store and continue, I was reminded of the Jamaican women I met in the infirmary (a government-run nursing home of sorts), most of whom have so very little that they are quite literally able to keep all of their possessions in a couple shopping bags just like the two I’d just thrown into my vehicle.

My two bags represent the first stop in what would be several stops, on the first shopping trip of what will inevitably be several shopping trips over the next month. Their two bags represent everything they have in this world.

As I moved on to other stores, I kept looking around at the abundance of stuff – piles and piles of clothing, stacks of dozens of games and dolls, televisions displayed floor to ceiling, kitchen appliances and gadgets lined up for perusal. As I looked around this morning, taking it all in, I felt vaguely as if I were surrounded by depravity.

I’m not suggesting it’s a sin to go shopping, nor do I think it’s sinful to purchase something you want if you don’t strictly “need” it. But for me, as I walk around a single store absolutely over-stuffed with shiny new merchandise and trendy new clothing, knowing there are dozens just like this one within my reach today, I often find myself tempted to think I need at least some of it. Or that it’s a wise use of my money to snatch up these great deals up and take them home. They are, after all, such a good buy for the money today!

In other words, I’m tempted to become very me-centered in a way that doesn’t fit reality. The truth is, I don’t need any of these things, and neither does anyone in my family. Not in any true sense of the word. “Need” was, I think rather helpfully, redefined for me this last year inside the dirt-poor interior of Jamaica, yet every time I go shopping, I find myself tempted to return to an old definition – “need” as defined by the relentless American desire for the newest, best, trendiest or most fashionable.

Yesterday evening, as our Thanksgiving holiday was waning, our family watched the live-action version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with Jim Carrey. The opening scenes of that movie, if you’ve not seen it, show all the inhabitants of Whoville running around like mad with lists of “needs” they are buying for family and friends, in order to celebrate Christmas. At one point the crowd of shoppers are driven into a frenzied stampede by a vendor shouting, “For the next five minutes…everything is 99% off!” Later in the movie, The Grinch sneeringly informs the Whos that most of their gifts to others very quickly end up at the top of Mt. Crumpitt – the city dump. In other words, all of their shopping and gift-giving is a senseless waste of time and effort, as it’s simply too much. It’s not needed.

I’d like to laugh at this caricature of American culture…but it’s simply too close to the truth to be funny.

I participated just this morning in a very “Who’esque” sort of shopping experience; I’ve already confessed that I didn’t come home empty-handed. I picked up a few gifts, took advantage of a couple “really great deals” and replaced my broken coffee pot (which still brewed coffee…so was it really broken enough to replace?). I know I don’t “need” any of those things, and yet that’s where my time, money and energy went this morning.

I know I need a nap, but I think I also need something else – I continue to need to be drawn closer and closer to my true Need this Christmas.

Fortunately, I have two things working in my favor today to remind me of that Need: firstly, I have the Holy Spirit, Who is drawing these conclusions in my heart, even using simple family movies to convict me. Secondly, I have an example of someone living out this Need in the women from the infirmary in Jamaica. Those who keep all their possessions in two shopping bags know far better than I that their lasting possession is not in those bags…but in Christ. Today, I am thankful that in the midst of the Black Friday sales, Jesus saw fit to remind me of my friends in Jamaica, and my only real need.

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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