As a writer married to a graduate student, I feel pretty confident that we’ve got consumerism pretty much licked this holiday season. There’s no way in heck that we’ll be spending much of any money on presents because we don’t have disposable income.
Yay me for choosing an undervalued profession!
But even if we don’t plan to crash any Black Friday sales wearing brass knuckles or to stock up on iPads during Cyber Monday, there are some pretty significant ways that we can still fall prey to the rampant consumerism and insanity that has come to characterize the holidays in America: We can fail to set boundaries around our lives for the life of God.
Shopping on Black Friday is neither right nor wrong by itself. The problem for me is what kinds of lives we’re leading if we’re always pushing our boundaries into greater indulgence. Are we creating space for God to be present among us and are we making time for ourselves to be present around others.
I don’t like stores opening on Thanksgiving evening because it represents a cultural commitment to always break boundaries, to seek more, to indulge ourselves without a thought to what we lose in the midst of indulging. The focus is on what we stand to gain by breaking a boundary rather than what we lose.
This is why Advent is such a life-giving season for the church. There are all kinds of short devotionals and books that you can read during this season. And while we don’t actively give up something during this season, a la Lent, there is something good about creating space each day to actively consider what we could gain if we make more time for Jesus each day.
As we’re offered more and more and more by advertisers, has it occurred to us that our time and resources are non-renewable resources? The time I spend shopping online is gone once I’ve invested two hours looking for the perfect sale. While there’s nothing morally wrong with some shopping, the question is whether we’re neglecting God or others because we’re shopping.
There is a cost to our indulgence.
I like to think of my life in terms of managing a garden. I’ve learned over the years that there’s only so much I can handle at one time. The more I expand our garden, the harder it is to keep up. I end up neglecting parts of it, failing to prune the black berries or to add soil to the potatoes as they sprout.
What I’ve seen in my own life is that indulgence in shopping, sports, or social media in the evening can all take away from the space I need for God or family.
I’ve found that I don’t need rules as much as I need boundaries.
I need to know that there is a block of time in the morning and in the evening for prayer and scripture reading. I need to know that I will thrive best when I spend that time with God and listen to the direction of God. I need those boundaries to my day so that I can hear God and evaluate my choices. Without that time I’m just at the mercy of my impulses… or religious guilt—if only I’d prayed more…
Consumerism and indulgence have a cost. We need to stop looking at buying gifts as right or wrong. We need to add up the costs of our lifestyles and how our lifestyles impact our time with God and with one another.
There is a wonderful place for generosity and gift giving over the holidays. The challenge for me is whether I can use this season as a time for spiritual rest in the midst of all that “has” to be done.
Go shopping. Buy gifts. But don’t make them your top priority. Create the space you need during the season of Advent to ask questions, to rest in God, and to even indulge in the life of God.
Give yourself the gift of a boundary. We don’t need more stuff. But there’s a very good chance that most of us need more time to rest in the presence of God.
And here’s the beauty of creating space for God. When we receive the love and peace of God, we have a valuable gift that we can pass along to others. These may be the gifts that end up meaning the most over the holidays.