As children, my mom always dressed my sister and I in name brand clothes and honestly, we rarely went without any toy or treat our hearts desired. Remember the original Nintendo? It was a big day in the Cleveland household when Dad showed up after work with one! And it wasn’t even Christmas or anyone’s birthday! Now, it wasn’t that we were wealthy, but we weren’t poor either. Plus my mom worked at a department store and is a super shopper. (And bless my mother’s heart, she was somehow able to keep me looking somewhat fashionable despite the fact that I preferred jeans to dresses, sports jerseys to cute tops, and I refused to take off my Iowa Hawkeye jacket, no matter how cold or snowy it became outside.) Now, we weren’t completely spoiled and my parents did say no. There were some fads my mother allowed to pass us by. Remember hypercolor shirts? I wanted one so badly, but she just couldn’t figure out a shirt that started off ugly and only got uglier when exposed to the sun. But my parents loved giving us good gifts.
Things for my family changed when my dad unexpectedly lost his job. I’ll never forget going school shopping during that time. It was the first time my gym shoes were from WalMart instead of Nikes or Asics. I remember being so nervous that kids were going to make fun of me. They didn’t, but I still had a sense that what I had was somehow less than everyone else.
If you’ve been on this journey with me from the beginning, first, I say thank you (if you haven’t – welcome) and if you’ve been reading along, you’ve noticed a theme. I feel passionately that the biggest things that prevent us from finding worth in our identity as God’s beloved son or daughter are our own accomplishments, accumulation, and chasing accolades. I think it is easy to acknowledge and own ways that our accomplishment (or lack thereof) begin to define us. I’m not so sure that it is as easy to own the other two. No one wants to be known as materialistic or as an approval addict. But I know I’ve been both.
Whether we use accumulation of things as a way to fit in, impress, or to fill some other need, it never really works well. The second you buy a new car or gadget, an even newer and better model comes out and the guy down the street has it. About the time you purchase the latest fad, the fad has passed and everyone is onto something else. In keeping up with the Jones, we really end up losing ourselves. King Solomon was the wealthiest man of his day. His net worth would have rivaled Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. And after accumulating everything his heart could desire or imagine, he concluded that it was all meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2). And even Jesus had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8).
My WalMart shoes weren’t as expensive or considered as good as my classmates’ Nikes. And yet, my personal worth had not changed. I know that seems like an obvious statement, but how often do we allow our personal worth to be defined by things we have? For my family, money stayed tight for years to come and it was one of the best things that could have happened. Don’t get me wrong, I love nice things. And I still love shoes! My father frequently teases me about the sheer volume of my shoe collection. The important difference? I don’t need things to feel ok, or accepted, or valued. Things don’t consume me or own me or define me or cause anxiety.
What do you tend to accumulate? Maybe it isn’t anything material at all. Do you accumulate titles? Awards? Friends? Likes on Instagram? Why is it that even though we know that the stuff of this world can’t really give us personal worth (that money can’t really buy us happiness), we tend to still hope that somehow it will?