Because I’ve been pondering while pedaling lately…and because Lewis provided some encouragement in the comments section of my last post…and because I’m a sucker for encouragement, here is a confession of sorts. I’m more tangled up in the weeds of this world and our American consumer culture than I’d like. Embracing the concept of simple living, but struggling with its application, these words spilled, like an unorganized, passionate rant, onto the keyboard…
Last week I thought that what I had was good. But now, I’m being told that what I need is something better. The message is that something smaller, lighter, faster, or something with more features, options, and enhancements is better than good. It is better…and the only way to really achieve good…is better…until tomorrow, at least.
Let’s look at it another way. I really enjoy ice cream. It is probably my favorite dessert. So what could be better than a scoop of delicious ice cream after dinner? It doesn’t take a nanosecond for me to cry with enthusiasm, “Two scoops!” Two scoops of ice cream after dinner would be better because…well, more of a good thing is better, right? I’m glad you agree, because that’s why I (being the ponderer that I am) have decided to skip dinner and have three scoops of ice cream. Because ice cream is good and more ice cream is better. Which is why, after having my three scoops for dinner, I’m having ice cream for dessert. But what I’d really like to have is an extreme ice cream experience, so I’m planning to have ice cream for breakfast too. After all, I’m told there are no limits…I deserve it…why wait…or some other such nonsense.
After about 45 years of mass media poisoning, I’ve reached a saturation point. We all tell ourselves that the advertising industry affects others, but not us. Fortunately, I finally faced reality and conceded that I have been living life under the influence of continuous injections of discontentment. Since then I’ve been trying to minimize this influence, but I’ve still got work to do.
Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
Because of the cycling content of this blog, I’ll let this example serve to illustrate similar struggles in my life. I enjoy cycling and currently have three bicycles. I’m like an older child who understands, on one level, that his parents set boundaries for his good, but in any given moment might desire something so fiercely that he would reject one of them. I believed that one more bicycle would be better. I had something good, but wanted something better. I wasn’t satisfied with good. Good wasn’t good enough. I wanted better.
Continuing the cycling analogy, I’ve learned that multiple bicycles can actually restrict freedom. Bicycles require maintenance. One needs to keep bicycles and their components clean, adjusted, and lubricated so that they function properly. We need a place to store them. We need a way to secure them from theft. To make our bicycling experience better, we need to accessorize. I’ve learned that perusing the internet can educate me on how to do all of these things. It can help me enhance my cycling experience. So I spend a great deal of time reading discussion forums, researching websites for new cycling-related companies, and often, determine that some new gadget is what I need to make my experience reach a whole new plateau. Unfortunately, any new gadget purchased for one bicycle, and found to be useful, tends to be viewed as necessary for all. This whole activity can become a money and time consumer that sucks more resources from me than originally intended. To that degree, my hobby becomes my master and I serve as its slave. The example here is cycling, but I’ve experienced similar situations in other areas of life (clothing, entertainment, food, recreation, career, etc.). How is freedom restored?
It is interesting to see many examples in the internet cycling community who appear to have chosen a simpler lifestyle. There are families who have chosen to be car free. There are individuals that have purposefully determined to rid themselves of some item every time they bring a new item into the household. There are many individuals who have made conscious decisions to reuse, repair, or restore rather than buy or consume something new. It fascinates me that there are people who have chosen to live deliberately (as Thoreau suggested) in this way. They seem to understand some of what I’ve been working on, even if from a different motivation. It appears, in many cases, they might be motivated by a concern for the environment. However, as a christian, it seems like a reduction in consumerism and living a voluntary simple life, is a spiritually authentic thing to do. I’ve grown weary of my christian brothers and sisters (me included) defending our pursuit of possessions by offering, “Abraham was rich.”
When Jesus encountered a rich man who asked him what he should do, Jesus said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Please understand the purpose of this page of pondering is not to convince all readers to go sell all your possessions. Instead, it appears that the challenge of spiritual authenticity involves, at least, reducing the time, money, and attention given to things that are not needful so that we are free to do what is good and enjoy what is good.
“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” – Ecclesiastes 2:24
Because good is good enough.
You're right, we should be content with what we have. It's hard to tell the difference between a "want" and a "need" sometimes.
Yep, if we could overcome “wanting” with contentment, we’d be free for nobler pursuits.
You know, this post has stuck with me for the past week, and then some. I have been thinking along similar lines lately, partly out of necessity due to having less income than I once had. And partly on a purely philosophical level.I haven't figured out exactly how to draw the line between need and want, or how to decide what wants are reasonable. But, I think it's good to work toward wasting less, and making the most of the things I already have.