Sunday, November 9, 2008


Lately I've been thinking a lot about stuff. More specifically, I've been thinking about all the stuff we've purchased recently. Here is a list of the larger items that we've purchased within the last year: a new refrigerator, a used 40 gig iPod, new replacement windows in our entire house, a new window air conditioner for the office, a new tile floor in the breakfast room, a new smartphone for me, a BOSE Wave machine, bookshelves for the office, a new iMac, a new Dell laptop, a new washer and dryer, new bunk beds for the kids (which are surprisingly expensive) and Andrew Peterson concert tickets. If you go back more than a year, we've also purchased a new furnace and air conditioner, new living room couches, a new standing pantry and a minivan. And I'm not even mentioning the new ball caps, the DVDs, the CDs, the clothes, the books, or the songs off of iTunes.

Let me be very clear right up front that all these purchases have been made with money that we had on hand, and not on credit. We pay off our entire credit card balance every month. We save, we are good stewards of our resources and we do not overspend. Everything in this post has been paid for completely up front or was a gift. The BOSE Wave (an absolutely fabulous machine by the way) was part Christmas gift and part money I'd saved for 2 years giving piano and guitar lessons. The point of reflection here is the actual items themselves, and not how we pay for them.

Most of these purchases came as a result of unfortunate circumstances which brought about a supposed need. A new van was needed when the old one died. A new fridge was needed when the old one stopped working. New windows went in because the original wooden ones rattled in the frames when the wind blew, and a new iMac came along because the old PC desktop died. It's the way life works. By the way, as a recent Mac convert I have come out of the darkness and into the light.

With each of these purchases the flesh gets a fresh jolt of euphoric excitement that anesthetizes. When you become dependent on that euphoria, your purchases increase and become more impulsive and unreasonable. You can make real problems for yourself in a quick hurry. But being a oniomaniac (shop-aholic) is not what I want to talk about either. I'm thinking about something much deeper, much more subtle, and more dangerous than that.

The temptation for me (it's practically genetic) is to seek to find my security and safety in my new stuff that works. For the first time in our married life we have two reliable vehicles at the same time, with enough money to maintain rather than fix them. It gives me peace of mind and I feel good about my life. I can fall asleep to the quiet whir of all the new, working appliances in my weather-tight, energy-efficient house. All is right with the world. It's all good.

What a load of crap.

This peace of mind that I think I have is a house of cards; a mirage. What happens when our possessions fail us? Our cars will eventually die. Our computers will eventually crash. Our new appliances will eventually wear out. Do we just go buy new? What happens when we don't have the money to buy new stuff? What then? Where is our security? Our peace of mind?

I am militant about getting rid of peripheral possessions. Growing up I was taught to keep everything because you might one day need it or use it again, or we might be able to sell it in a garage sale or on eBay. I have summarily rejected this philosophy, and have probably gotten rid of some things prematurely (to my wife's frustration). But what about the possessions that I do keep? Am I seeking peace and comfort in them? Am I fooling myself into thinking that they one day won't wear out or break? I don't know.

C.S. Lewis said, "He who has God plus many things has nothing more than he who has God alone." If God was all I had, would I have peace? If God was all I had, would I be secure? If God was all I had, would it be enough? At the end of things all my stuff will burn. Am I okay with that?

More later . . .

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