I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NIV)
I carry bags from the car and my sons hustle to tie tennis shoes in a hurry before loading their arms too. It’s errand day and in comes the influx of all we’ve acquired today—a rolling laundry sorter, child-sized skinny jeans and glitter t-shirts, a spice rack that promises to maximize cupboard space, a new fishing pole. With six of us in the house, we spend a significant amount of time in the business of acquisition. It goes like that, in this culture, a slippery slope where the blurry line between need and want pixelates, disintegrates, in the smorgasbord of belongings. Someone needs a new toothbrush and before long new shoes and new socks and new furniture and new pillows and might as well throw in a new cell phone while we’re at it.
I’m too tired to put it all away tonight, to squeeze more space from our tiny townhouse, to fluff and fold and hang and devote more time to possession. I go to bed and fall asleep comforted by the knowledge that soon enough I’ll get to ditch my garage sale couch for a brand new one but reject the numbers which represent dollars that break through the peace of mind it brings me—all twelve hundred dollars’ worth.
In the morning, I can’t sleep through the sunrise and I come downstairs to find it all waiting. Cardboard and plastic, price tags, receipts, a bright box bearing the tawdry announcement: As Seen on TV! Another plastic gadget, a collection of stuff.
Stuff to wear, stuff to eat, stuff to hang on the wall. Stuff to put in drawers, stuff to put in closets, stuff to use up and throw away. Plastic stuff, fabric stuff, paper stuff, metal stuff, stuff I didn’t even know existed 24 hours ago. Stuff to store my stuff, to sort my stuff, to organize my stuff, to display my stuff, to clean my stuff. Stuff to keep us busy, to take our eyes off Jesus, even if just for a moment.
I run my fingers along the lace back of my daughter’s new dress. “You’ll wear this to church tonight?” I ask, as if it matters. Of course, she’ll want to show off the shiny, to twirl a little in front of her friends. She doesn’t get new dresses as often as most of them do, and that’s how I justify my allegiance to the golden calf of retail. It’s how I ignore what I know is true.
The pile of price tags tells the awful truth: My religion isn’t Christianity; it’s capitalism.
Through the blinds I spy my neighbor’s new car, its shiny black finish reflecting the spring skyline like a mirror. My used rig sits behind it with a cracked windshield, a duller black finish streaked with 4-year-old fingerprints, and we’re not so bad when you look at it that way. We rent a meager space, drive used, and scour thrift shops for dining room chairs. We give. We share. We wear jeans until our ankles show. By American standards we’re downright thrifty.
My stuff pile glitters brighter under that perspective. She really did need new jeans. Our spice cupboard is too tiny and we need all the space we can get. We can afford the new couch and what’s another twelve hundred in the grand scheme of things?
I don’t know how many people could be fed with that kind of money, how many third-world residents could have water, and the sick truth of it is that I don’t even want to find out. I want a new couch. I want furniture with patterns that match because when it comes right down to it, I have a divided heart. I have believed the trick of the enemy that I can be comforted by stuff, that plastic and price tags, bright graphics on cardboard boxes fulfill the needs of my body and the longing in my soul. But Jesus didn’t live by American standards. The Son of Man had no place to lay his head, but there are enough pillows under my roof to cradle our heads for a lifetime of comfortable sleep.
It all feels like ash.
I don’t have to read it because I already know it, but a lifetime of grace has taught me better. I know this:
I cannot rise from ash without resurrection in my heart, without the Word in hand.
The pink leather binding, my own name engraved in the fleshy cover taunts because, after all, I’ve wrapped the very Word of God in my false religion—leather bound and with free engraving. But the truth within stands stronger than my wavering heart. He will not be corrupted. He is not persuaded by advertising promises or swindled by sale racks and I feel the sting of my foolishness while the words trickle down and quench what the cash register never can, what shame and doubt will never redeem.
He is risen so I can rise.
He has paid so I am free from all shackles.
What I buy or don’t buy, need or don’t need can torment me but if my heart is devoted to Him, I have everything I need and more than I could want. He delights in my joy for sure. But more? He is my joy.
The sunlight leaves patterns on the living floor, now clear of the clutter. Warmth and spring settle upon the tiny townhouse and the Word settles into me as I settle into it, particles of resurrection light that pierce the darkness. Whatever the need, the addiction, the weakness–He has overcome.
Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness, but God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to your sunburst brightness. – Isaiah 60:1-3 (MSG)
In April, our writers are sharing stories on the theme Rise, telling everyday tales of awakening to the mystery of the resurrection during Eastertide. Together, we’ll celebrate and ponder the message of Christ through the lens of our unique perspectives. And we’re giving away one copy of Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg to a lucky person who comments – one every Monday in April. Winners will be announced every Tuesday morning .
Then on Monday, April 29, join us in welcoming our guest writer, Margaret Feinberg, popular Bible teacher, speaker and author, and link up your own story on the prompt Rise. One story will be selected from the collection and featured here on Bible Dude. It could be yours.