On Accumulation, Consumerism, and Trust

I sat in the second row. Alone. Sage had been up all night sick. Bryan stayed home with her so that Thad and I could go. So that I could get away, out of the house, out of the situation, into a change of scenery.

My parents were sitting near the front. In the darkness, as the worship music played, I made my way towards them. There weren’t seats in their row so I sat alone.

I almost left. I thought about sitting in the cafe and writing or reading instead of sitting through the sermon after a sleepless night. I’m glad I stayed. There was something I needed to hear. Something the Spirit needed to whisper to me.

“Trust.” The whisper came, “Trust.”

You would think, after all that we have walked through in the last few years, that I would have learned to trust by now, but I haven’t. There is still much in my heart that longs to control rather than trust.

This has become especially evident in my recent desire to accumulate.

A few months ago Bryan and I sat, side-by-side, on our couch. Externally I processed with him a change I noticed in myself. For most of my life I have preferred experiences to possessions. I have held very lightly to things. I have hated shopping (and, no, hate is not too strong a word there) and had little to no interest in ownership.

I shared with Bryan how that was changing. How I have recently understood what is meant by shopping therapy. How I desire, and want to buy, so many things.

As I processed this shift I decided that it was largely due to the fact that our life had been so transient before, with no room for accumulating and holding onto things, and now it was becoming more stable. We are putting down roots so my desire to buy things for the house, things for myself and the children, things for Bryan, makes sense and is only natural. Or so I told myself.

Bryan shared how he didn’t feel that way at all and instead had an even deeper desire to live more simply and purge even more. When he responded this way I got defensive.

That should have been my first warning sign.

The truth is much of my desire to buy things lately is tied to appearances. I want a my house to look nice when people come over. I want to have nice things. I want my children and I to look nice.

The truth is I live in showy Scottsdale and it’s starting to have an effect on me.

I want people to think certain things about me just by looking at me, and one of the things I want them to think is “she has good taste.” For some reason that is important to me. Perhaps it’s the artistic side of me wanting this value that I have for beauty and aesthetics to shine through right away to people. I want to make a certain impression.

I wrote about this when we moved back from Prague. I was shocked by the ways consumerism was on overdrive here and by how much it effected my own heart. I was surprised by how much appearances took on new, heightened, importance to me.

I know that ultimately this desire to control how others see me stems from fear. Fear of how others might judge me, or perceive me, or write me off.

And fear is always tied to a lack of trust.

I lack trust in God and in other people. I don’t trust that God will bring us into community, that people will see past appearances and see our hearts. I want to take matters into my own hands and make myself, my children, my home attractive to others.

Lately a lot of my energy has also gone into wanting to accumulate not just more possessions, but more money. Wanting to build up our saves again. Wanting to have excess. Wishing Bryan made more. Wishing we had money to spend on certain things that I want to do.

Some of those things are good things, built on good desires. Like wanting to get more therapy and equipment for Sage whether or not insurance covers those things. Or wanting to help my sister get out of her terrible job before she has baby number four - wishing I had enough money to pay her large amounts to help me with a few small things, like editing and watching Sage now and then. Or wanting to fly my in-laws down to Arizona for a visit whenever they want. Or wanting to go back to Europe to visit friends there.

These desires require money. Which sets my heart longing to get a job, to make more, to accumulate.

The truth is that I lack trust. I don’t trust God to take care of my daughter and her needs. I don’t trust God to take care of my in-laws and provide for their need to see us more. I don’t trust God to provide a new and better job for my sister. I don’t trust God to care for my friends far away and provide ways for us to stay connected.

Instead of praying about these desires, asking God to provide either through me or through another, I try to take matters into my own hands and stress about not being able to do so.

Instead of trusting the process and that God’s will WILL indeed be worked out in all things, in all ways, at all times, I worry.

I have approached life and money from an attitude of scarcity instead of an attitude of abundance. And there is surely abundance in the kingdom of God! Amen?

Most of all though, it has been the fear of an unknown future that has must tugged my heart onto the path of accumulation.

Our future has felt a little bit more stable the past few months, but I have seen enough to know that your life can be turned upside down in a night. I know all to well how quickly medical bills can pile up (just yesterday we got an unexpected one that far exceeded what we had planned). I know how fast people can be taken away and security can turn into insecurity.

This is what has really been driving my desire to accumulate. Fear. We should accumulate now, while we can, while things are stable, because we have no idea how unstable they could be in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea to save money, to be prepared for emergencies, but my desire hasn’t just been for a reasonable savings account. It has been for excess. And it has been driven by fear instead of trust.

I have seen God provide in miraculous ways for our finances, for our medical bills, for our income. We have walked through seasons where I cried because we didn’t have enough money to buy butter, only to step outside and have God provide the exact amount for a package of butter. We have been through the unstable income of freelance work and have always been well taken care of - by friends, by family, by God himself.

Oh, how quickly I forget. Oh, how quickly I begin to live with closed fists instead of open hands.

Change my heart God. I don’t want to be sucked into consumerism. I don’t want to have an attitude of scarcity. I want to trust.

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany