(aka the post I’ve been avoiding writing for a while)
Some posts, I’m super excited to write. Some of them just get me fired up and so emotional I cry over them, hoping people can hear my heart through my blundering words.
Then there are posts that I dread writing, because they are hard for me and I can’t hardly ask anyone else to do what I struggle to do. Like my post about gratitude. I still make a face at that post on some days. But that’s kind of the point of encouraging each other, isn’t it? It’s not that any one of us has it all figured out. We just reveal what we’re each learning.
This one’s been bugging me since I started this website.
Noun: “The state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.” Dictionary.com.
Break it down a little more, to “content,” and you get, as an adjective: “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”
“…[F]or I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Insert grumbling here.
What’s interesting is that God has taught me a lot about being content, and I’m so much better about it now than I used to be. But I still struggle with this. I’ve also struggled to admit that I have no reason not to be content at times.
How I’ve Learned A Little More Contentment
For those that don’t know, my husband and I are working this really cool, really tough program by Dave Ramsey. We’re on Baby Step 2 – the “Debt Snowball” part of it. We’re doing whatever we can to get rid of all of our debt, and as part of that process we’ve been cutting whatever we can think of. Each month that has gone by since we started killing debt, we’ve found something else to cut, or a way to spend less money on something.
What is absolutely fascinating about this is realizing what we actually need. For instance: my husband and I love to eat out. A lot of our dating was spent this way – we love food, and we love hanging out at restaurants (sorry waiters and waitresses, we’re the couple that doesn’t want to leave, we just want to chat with each other).
But…we don’t really have to eat out. We don’t need to eat out.
This took a while to sink in. I’m not going to lie, we’ve had a very tiny eat out budget for a long time, even while trying to get rid of debt, because this one was hard to get rid of. Then, feeling convicted, we cut it from our budget. There’s no cash in the “Eat Out” envelope. And you know what? We’re surviving!
And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I kept saying (read as: whining) to my husband that I needed to eat out. I needed it. But that was a lie.
We’re not perfect. There’s other stuff we could cut. Some months we end up purchasing something that we didn’t need to get. Yet, we have continued to push harder and harder on our budget, and we question everything now. “Do we really need this?” Most of the time the answer is “No,” or “Not that much” or even “Not right now.” Like our hair cut budgets. I cut my husband’s hair for him now. I haven’t gotten my hair cut in a while, because I don’t need it.
It’s caused us to research food and pay attention to sales, and we’ve learned how expensive some things are (my goodness, cheese! Why must my favorite foods be so expensive?) but also how cheap other items are (rice anyone?) While we try to eat healthy, we’ve learned that we don’t really need to have every single food group in one sitting – we can get it throughout the day. I’ve learned that I don’t even need that much food (you wouldn’t know this by looking at me, though).
Something else I struggled with for a while was not getting a smart phone. We have “dumb” mobile phones. They call and text just fine, and our phone bill is really low because of not having a data plan. I was tempted for the longest time to simply upgrade to a smart phone and call it a “need,” but overtime, as I kept looking at the prices for the plans, I realized I didn’t “need” it.
The “I Need This” Lie
The reason I’m rambling about all of this is not to gloat or brag, (though this gives me a little relief that I’ve learned something through this process). It’s to point out how often we say we “need” something.
- I “need” this coffee.
- I “need” this TV show.
- I “need” this phone.
- I “need” this game.
- I “need” this article of clothing.
- I “need” this car.
- I “need” this food.
- I “need” [insert sport, gym, club, organization here].
- I “need” this house.
- I “need” this haircut.
- I “need” this vacation.
- (For Parents) My kid “needs” this….
What’s worse, we justify our “needs” until we’ve convinced ourselves that because our $3,000 car broke down once or a couple of times we should get a brand new $30,000 car.
Our phone has a slight dent in it, so we “need” the newest, state-of-the-art whateverthatApplecompanymade phone. Heck, we claim we “need” smart phones.
Even college education. I “need” to get my degree from this private, super expensive college. (I wish I had known this one was a lie years ago.)
I’ve heard stories of parents buying a house when they weren’t ready because the kids “need” it. Really, there’s probably more to be said about what we try to justify through children. How often do we claim they have a “need” that really isn’t one?
Need, need, need.
Do we have needs? Yes. We need air. We need food. We need clothing. We need people, even including us introverts.
I’m not even saying that we don’t “need” a vacation, meaning a time to rest. People need rest. Desperately, in fact, in this fast-paced culture.
But what sort of society have we become, where the majority of Americans are racking up debt despite the fact that most of us are making more than something like half of the rest of the people in the world? You can claim that living costs are higher here – and I’d agree, though I don’t know the exact numbers – but just consider that we get to have vacations. That’s probably a strange concept to people in impoverished countries.
We get to eat out. We get to watch TV. We get to have neat little pieces of technology that connect us to everyone and everything. We get to own and drive our own cars. We get to buy nice pieces of clothing. We get to buy really good specialty coffee.
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. Money is not evil. Having good things is not evil. Having fun is not evil. Wealth is not a bad thing, and enjoying the blessings that God has granted us isn’t my point at all.
But I also want you to feel a little uncomfortable, because I know I am, and I want you to question your reasons for everything you purchase or consider purchasing.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (I Timothy 6:6-8)
When You Are Purchasing Anything, Do A Heart (And Fact) Check
Check your heart, check your mind, and then check the facts. Take an honest look. And I mean an honest look – I want you to set aside your thoughts and opinions and be blatantly honest with yourself.
Do you really “need” this, or are you just trying to justify this to yourself? Same question if you’re buying for your children: does your child really “need” this? What is the true reason of this purchase? Don’t be afraid to admit that no, it’s actually a “want.” And then decide if this “want” is something you can actually afford, and if you really should purchase this “want.”
The other day I was reading from the book of Ezekiel, and this was what convinced me to write this post, because all I saw was, instead of God talking to Jerusalem, was God talking to America:
“‘As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me.’” (Ezekiel 16:48-50a)
I don’t want you to think that this is all you. You could handle this really well – maybe you are humble, self-controlled, not obsessed with consumerism, righteous, and you do so much for the poor and needy. Me? Not so much. I could definitely do better.
I fear the overarching spirit of consumerism in this country. It’s something we all need to work on, and some of us more than others. I speak for myself here, too – I struggle with these things, particularly with “excess of food.” My husband asked me a very tough question the other day. I was admitting that I used food to hide, and he asked, “So what were you hiding from earlier?” (He asked because I’d eaten more food than I normally do.) This caused me to realize – once again – that I was idolizing food. I often treat it like it’s a god that’s going to save me. And it’s not.
How many others say they “need” what they don’t actually need?
My point in bringing up the Ezekiel passage isn’t that some of you aren’t doing what you can to help the poor and needy, either. There are lots of great people and organizations in America, and I’ve heard from missionaries how thankful they are for the generosity of some Americans. I’ve heard some amazing stories of generosity. We’ve been the recipients of some great generosity (and not just in money, but in time and help) too.
However, that doesn’t mean we should take light of this warning, either. Especially when we (including myself) so often say we “need” something when, if we were to be truly honest with ourselves, we don’t really.
Break the spirit of consumerism. Seek contentment.