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 :-))