The trap of materialism
Wisdom is knowing oneself, which takes digging deeply and honestly into ourselves.
Note the word "selves" there. It's relevant.
As an inspirational new book, A Travel Guide to Life, points out, most people have three "selves." One is the public personality they assume when they go out of the house: with friends or casual acquaintances or fellow employees: at work, to church, to the club, to dinner, at a relative's or friend's home.
There is also the private self. This is the self that bursts forth (sometimes literally!) once we're home in the familiarity of our family. You know how that can be: nice in public, then raging when a person enters his or her own home -- or at least acting quite differently among those who are closest to them.
Then there's the "secret self." Years ago, we referred to this was the "inner chamber." Call it what you will. It's the deepest part of you, the thoughts, temptations, aspirations, ideas, and emotions you share with no one. It's the "you" you don't want glimpsed. But it's the you that goes to eternity.
Perhaps a goal in life should be to have no separation: to form a single self -- to be transparent, to be "real" all the time, to purge that inner chamber such that there's nothing to hide and no hidden emotions like jealousy and pride and anger and no need for layers.
With transparency comes clarity (of vision).
When there are various "selves," they attach to different things; there are "strings" that form and can tie us down -- blind us, prevent mature spiritual development, strings to people or ideas or things. One of the big ones is lust. Another is resentment. And a very big one -- which we will now focus on, because it is such a current plague -- is materialism.
What is materialism? And how deeply might it be entrenched in our own selves? Is it down there in the secret self -- or at least the private one?
Here we get back to that book by a fellow from New York named Anthony DeStefano, a book of what might be called "tough love." For DeStefano doesn't pull many punches. Sometimes he seems angry at the reader! But points are made -- very useful ones. We recommend it.
For example, in discussing materialism -- which weighs us down so often, and leads to other issues down there in the psyche, like envy, DeStefano writes: "So many people today try to 'build' their own lives and give no heed whatsoever to the kind of life God wants for them. The end result is that we have a world brimming over with unhappy people.
"No one ever seems to learn. So many folks are content to spend the precious few years they have on this planet trying to get more money so they can show off [our italics]. They might not admit it, but that's the truth. They don't want to buy a house they really love; they want one that looks fancier and makes them appear richer. The same goes for their cars and their clothes and their furniture and all the rest of their possessions. It's all about showing off. It's all about status.
"How pathetic! The misguided masses that get caught up in the battle over expensive labels and shiny status symbols just don't realize what a waste of time it is. They don't realize what a waste of life it is. Who do they think they're showing off for? Who are they trying to impress? What's the point?
"Do they really think that other people look at them and say, 'Wow, John's doing great. He's so rich and successful. I admire John." Are they silly enough to believe that?
"The irony is that people aren't thinking about 'John' at all," the book continues (yes, at times in a way that's shrill). "They're too busy thinking about themselves! And if they did give him and his possessions a passing thought, it would probably be in a disparaging way. It's all a big waste of time. It's all a silly rat race. And as someone very wise once said, the outcome of that race doesn't matter much, because even if you win, you're still a rat!"
Told you DeStefano does not pull punches. We're offering his book, however, because it makes us think afresh, especially in the current milieu, whereby so very many idolize the rich, including Christians, instead of remembering what Jesus said about the eye of the camel.
If you are legitimately gifted with wealth (that is, have accrued wealth without really seeking it, without being obsessed with it, without caring about status), bravo. Keep what is necessary and comfortable and do what Jesus told the rich man to do: use the rest for a mission -- for the benefit of everyone. After all, when we die, the Lord is likely to ask, "What have you done with your life?" or "I gave you five million dollars. How was it spent to further My kingdom, to help others?"
Imagine being asked that.
Wealth used with selfish relish is an albatross that weighs one down, that stymies the spirit, that quashes goodness and forms bulk around us as we try to fit through that narrow gate. We want to enter the gate -- not head into a cage! Material things can be just that: when poorly used, a trap. It brings us to the famous Christian writer, G. K. Chesterton, who once said, "To be clever enough to make a billion dollars, you must first be stupid enough to want a billion dollars!" Tough words for our meditation.
[resources: A Travel Guide To Life and Michael Brown, West Palm Beach, Florida, February 13 ]