Adventures of a former overseas missionary, pilot's wife, and mom of 4 girls

The Materialistic Missionary? January 9, 2012

Filed under: Musings — junglewife @ 9:21 pm

So, there are a lot of things missionaries are “supposed” to be, I’m sure.  Super-spiritual, selfless, sacrificial, etc. Unless you are really hiding under a rock somewhere, or don’t know too many missionaries, you have probably figured out that most all missionaries are not perfect. We’re human, too.

But let me be honest with you for a bit here.  One thing I really struggle with is materialism. Now, I can think of a lot of reasons why that shouldn’t be the case:

– I have moved so many times that it should be easy for me to give things up, and not be attached to my possessions

– I live in a country where most of my neighbors’ total belongings can fit in a suitcase that I use to pack for a weekend trip

– I live in a place with no Target, Walmart, etc. If I want to order anything online, it costs twice the price once you add in shipping, and takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months to reach me (if it comes at all). So, no instant-gratification online shopping.

– I’m a missionary! So that means I am automatically “supposed” to have disdain for the American culture and rampant materialism therein, right?! (note heavy sarcasm…)

Those should be reasons enough not to be materialistic, right?  But I still struggle with it. And, let’s be honest, its not just a “struggle”.  It’s sin. Plain and simple. Materialism is being dissatisfied with what you have and wanting more/different things. I’d consider that coveting, wouldn’t you?

For some reason, in my life, a lot of those reasons above for why I should NOT be materialistic somehow turn into reasons that I AM materialistic:

– I’ve moved so many times that I’ve gotten rather attached to the things I do have.  I really do like my “stuff”. It’s nice, after spending a few weeks (or months! (or years!)) traveling and living out of suitcases, to come home to my OWN STUFF.

– Also, I can’t just go out and replace my “stuff” if I lend out something and it doesn’t come back, or if it gets broken. So that makes me want to hang onto it even more.

– Not being able to shop doesn’t make me exempt from wanting to do so. I dream about Target!  So, when I get back to the “land of plenty”, rather than being horrified at the amount of STUFF in the stores, I want to buy it all! Just because I CAN! Not that I have the money to do so, but it’s all available in the stores for the wanting and the having and the buying.  If the kids want a toy in the store, it’s SO hard for me not to buy it for them, just because I CAN.  If I see a cute shirt that I want, I have a hard time saying “no”, just because it’s there and available. And, sales!  Sales do not exist here! I cannot resist a sale!!!

– Also, I need to shop!  Really! When you can’t just go out and buy a new set of underwear because the old ones have holes in them, you have to buy them ahead of time to bring back with you.  Clothes for the kids, birthday gifts for the kids, Christmas presents for the hubby, vitamins, certain feminine hygiene products, some toiletries, etc. Now, granted, that is not all “fun” shopping, but there’s a certain mindset a missionary can get into when most of your shopping is “stock-up” shopping.  You start having the attitude of “if I think I might need it, I’d better buy it now to take back with me, because I sure won’t be able to find one there!”  It’s pre-emptive replacement shopping and stocking-up.  Sure, I might have 10 reasonably good t-shirts in my closet. But I know that sometime in the next year or two, they will get stained or sun-faded or holes in them (or some combination of the three), so it’s hard not to buy 10 MORE t-shirts just so I’ll have new ones when the old ones go kaput.

So, what’s a missionary to do? I’m not sure, to be honest.  I can’t keep from shopping when we’re back in the States. If I was living in the States long-term I would probably just do my best to stay out of the malls altogether as much as possible. But I can’t do that.  I’m sure I’ll go on shopping overload during our 6 weeks back in the States (only 3 more sleeps until we leave Wamena!)

But, there are some things I can do to prevent the materialism from creeping in and taking over my necessary-stocking-up attitude.  Stop and think a minute before just adding something to the cart (real or virtual.) Will the kids really enjoy that toy, or do they just want it because it’s fun-looking and colorful? Will I REALLY wear that t-shirt or do I just want it because it’s on sale for only $5?  Just because I have to stock up and buy things doesn’t mean I have to buy everything out there.  I always end up opening my suitcases back in Wamena and saying “Why did I pack THAT?!” to at least a few things.  Really evaluate and think about why I am buying something.

I think it’s okay to enjoy shopping, especially when I only get to shop at my favorite store (Target) every couple of years or so. I think it’s okay to like my stuff. But I don’t want to get so attached to it that it becomes more important than people.  And as I shop in the States, I don’t want the buying attitude to consume me. I want to be aware of what I’m buying and not just mindlessly throwing things into the cart. I want to be intentional about those things I purchase.   And most of all, remember that it is God who gives us every good thing. And that includes material goods.  I want my life AND my stuff to belong to Him.

So, those are my thoughts and intentions. What do you think? Any thoughts on materialism?  (You’ll have to ask me at the beginning of March how all my good intentions panned out :-))


12 Responses to “The Materialistic Missionary?”

  1. puffpopFr Says:

    I completely understand! I have a problem with “stuff” too and love to shop. But shopping is like fishing…you go for the sport of it but you don’t have to catch anything. It’s just nice to see what’s out there but when you see something, of course you rationalize that you “need” it.

    Since we traveled on the road for 10 years, I often thought of all the “stuff” I have at home and how well I do without it for the time we traveled …usually 6 months out of the year.

    Now I’m at an age where I absolutely do not want anymore “stuff”. Gets more difficult to keep clutter free. More to dust and more to worry about. The less clutter, the simpler and more stress free you can live.

    I do have things that I am “attached ” to …usually gifts which remind me of the giver. And…lets’ face it, we like to look at “pretty” things.

    In the OT, God blessed the patriarchs with wealth but in the NT, it seems that Jesus and Paul both traveled light.

    Fran(the elder)

  2. Rebecca C. Says:

    Oh, wow, do I ever know how you feel! Thanks a lot for showing me my sin.;-) The list I have for our 6 weeks back in the States is growing by the moment. I’m truly fine without any of that stuff on my “What to buy in America” list…but now that I have the rare opportunity to get it, I want it and I want it ALL! I think our lives really can lend themselves to materialism for the very reasons you mentioned plus a few more – like the fact that we’re sacrificing so much that we begin to feel entitled to some “treats” for ourselves or our kids or the tendency we’ve developed to buy as much of any item that we happen to see just in case the store never sells it again!

    I don’t have any answers either…because the simple fact is that I AM NOT going to be caught without some replacement underwear ever again! And our clothes really are in need of replacement (my mother was slightly horrified when she saw our “missionary wardrobes”). But it’s true that we have to stop and think about what we’re getting and the real reasons behind it. I know that the moment I walk into Target I’m going to instantly want every little thing I see from the newly designed packages of stick gum to the super-cute bedding. Oh, be still my heart.

    I’ll pray for you if you’ll pray for me?

  3. Dear Sarah (can’t remember if there’s an h on the end of Sara?)

    Recently my husband and I wrote our life story. We started with a great great great grandfather in England who recorded his will. The sentence I loved was: ” I give the goods that God has LENT me to my wife and children.” I absolutely loved that concept–nothing just happens, but He gives us opportunities to be thankful for what He provides. The big football hero, TEBOW, was a child that was recommended to be aborted, but the mother kept the pregnancy. He is now the outstanding star. He puts John 3:16 under each eye to remember who gives him the talent. Yesterday he made a record of 316 yards he completed to win the game. I guess as we shop we need to remember to pray God will direct our thoughts, wishes, hopes and lead us to what will look appropriate, wear well, lead us to the item and bring our artistic desires to the item as well as remind us of what we need to remember to take back. You have done a great job especially with artistic challenges for your girls. It amazes me how creative your mind is to develop all these great experiences for them! And prayerfully you will have a good rest and fellowship with your family as you return to the U.S. for a time. Don’t let guilt destroy your happiness and guidance. You have done a wonderful job of adapting to your situation and staying positive with that beautiful smile!

  4. Ricky and Heather Lundholm Says:

    Sarah-I have had the same thoughts! There have been so many strange things that have happened since moving to Indonesia. It is strange to go from lower-middle class to being some of the “richest” people around. It is weird when we buy something for our home that is another person’s monthly or yearly wage. I found myself being upset with my children on a recent shopping trip to “buy all those things we can’t get in our town”. Afterwards I realized I was putting my shopping list and desire to acquire those things before my own children, who were “slowing me down”. Materialism is definitely a struggle for me, too. And I agree with Becca, I seem to think it’s okay to be a little more materialistic now since I’m sacrificing in other areas. The learning curve is so steep right for me right now that my brain literally hurts sometimes! Hopefully we will see God work in us in this area!

    • junglewife Says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way! Misery loves company, right?! 🙂 I think you definitely settle into a pattern the longer you live overseas. And you guys definitely aren’t settled right now! Living in language school, preparing for life at your permanent assignment definitely entails a lot of buying! The problem is, living long-term in the States it is easier to think how I could change my thinking to a less-materialistic mindset. And also, living here overseas it is easier to settle into a not-so-much-buying mindset. But when you intersperse your overseas life with occasional trips back to the “land of plenty”, things get more complicated! Maybe the old-school missionaries really did have it easier in some ways… just leave your home country on the boat to go overseas, and never go back! Ha!

  5. Gracia M. Says:

    It’s all a matter of attitude, isn’t it? I understand quite well. Will you be in IN. when you’re home. 6 weeks isn’t very long. Maybe I could meet you at Target. 🙂

    • junglewife Says:

      No, we won’t be in Indiana this time. You’re right, 6 weeks isn’t very long. We had originally planned a trip out to Indiana but decided 6 weeks was too short to do that much traveling. So we are staying in Washington this time. Meeting at Target is a great idea! Maybe next time… 🙂

  6. Erica Feunekes Says:

    Great post Sarah! Spot on. I wish u much strength as u go to the land of milk and honey!

  7. Kacie Says:

    I can relate to loving to shop despite being from a background/family that should take me the other direction! I have to be super frugal now when everything is available but we have no money. When I think of stocking up before going overseas, though, my mindset totally changes. Buy everything! Soon I won’t have access to anything!

    Silly me.

  8. Kris Says:

    Oh my do I understand!!! I am the same way when we are home….GIVE ME TARGET!!! Sure we can get stuff here in Taiwan, but all the women’s things are like a size 2! Plus, it’s just not nice! Stuff from home costs a fortune if we can find it, and you know, I actually like boxed cakes and puddings 🙂 Oh how I wish I had an answer about your materialism question. Truth is, though, I just plain love to shop and I just plain love America!!! I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably just a horrible missionary 🙂 Enjoy your time Stateside!!!

  9. Kim Says:

    You’re articulated very well how a lot of us missionary wives feel! We just recently returned from our first furlough and I admit to having those same thoughts: I have to buy NOW because I can’t get it there! or I have to get this HERE because it’s too expensive there! or…

    Yep, definitely had to re-think a few of my purchases, especially when it came time to pack them all. hahahaha Knowing that two teams would be coming and could bring things for us made me buy more than I normally would. But after paying HUGE extra luggage fees on what we personally brought back, I’ll be a little more careful next time. I’ll have to remember to consider not just the cost of the item at purchase point, but add in the cost of transporting it back to the field.

    And really, how much stuff do I really need? Hmmmm. Definitely food for thought. It felt so liberating to get rid of SO MUCH STUFF before we first moved to the field in ’08. So do I really want to go back to accumulating again? It’s a hard line to keep, to have what you NEED without getting too much and having your stuff consume too much time — in caring for it, storing it, moving it…whatever.

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