Today's post is by Elizabeth Comeaux who is married to Chris, works on the Worship Team at Brook Hills, and who loves all things nutella.
Part 1: The Problem
I’m going to say something that, in our post-Radical, turn-your-life-and-your-heart-inside-out, take-the-gospel-to-the-nations, Brook Hills church culture feels almost taboo.
I love shopping.
There, I’ve said it! I can’t take it back. I love finding bargains, and the thrill of the hunt is intoxicating. I know that’s not supposed to be the case what with me being on staff and it having been 4 years since Radical first came out. But that is the honest, transparent truth in my ugly, black heart. And it has been an idol in my life for longer that I realized.
And I actually thought it wasn’t a problem. For a long time things seemed fine, and I was even able to reduce my spending by 50% during the Radical Experiment. God was calling me to live a life unencumbered by the love of clothes, and I was going to obey Him. So after a nice pat on the back and relishing my radical accomplishment for a bit, I made plans the next year to reduce even more.
But my plans backfired. I slowly began spending a little more, then a little more, certain each time that this would be the last all while justifying each purchase because it was such a bargain. I never put our family finances in jeopardy (far from it), but I could physically feel the desire for cute clothes begin to grow and become ever harder to resist. Yet I didn’t want this burden. I didn’t want to be ensnared by this. My desire was to walk in obedience to God. But failure is always the result of self-imposed morality devoid of dependence on the Spirit of God. I was trying to do this without Him.
I knew God was not pleased with the object of my affections. He is a jealous God, and rightly so. I could feel Him, too, gently but firmly coaxing me back to Him. Now don’t get me wrong here. Shopping and clothes in and of themselves are not sinful. But loving them to the point where they are stealing away your affections for your King most certainly is. I knew He wanted me to see my idolatry for what it was, repent, and return in submission to Him. Over the past 8 months or so, He has fought with me in my quest to tame the beast. I have felt very strongly the urging of the Holy Spirit to purge my heart of the sin that grips it so tightly. Coming to terms with my materialism has become an ever-growing struggle. It has been the albatross around my neck and clenched me like a vice.
Or at least that’s what I thought. In truth, I was the one clutching it. I didn’t want to let go. The more I realized this is something God has commanded me to relinquish, the more tightly I held onto it. With the fear and stubbornness of a child refusing to give up her blankie, even though Father knows best and she knows she’s supposed to have outgrown it by now, my knuckles turn white as I tighten my fingers around it and tears roll down my cheeks. The security of it is just too precious to release.
Only – it’s just a blanket. The fabric is thin, worn through in most places, and is covered in stains after dragging it around all over the place. And as for security, it’s completely ineffectual at fending off the Boogie Man, bumps in the night, and the monster under my bed. (My guess is that verse in James about moth-eaten riches is now running through your head.)
I say security because I have sought that very thing in shirts and sweaters and shoes. I will be accepted if I wear a cute outfit. I will feel sure of myself if I have on a well put-together ensemble. I will engender the trust of others if I appear the way I don’t feel – confident and dependable. Strangely, the security of new things doesn’t last long, so I kept getting new things. Then I felt secure again. Yet somehow it wore off again, so I kept getting new things. Then I felt secure, yet…sigh.
But here’s the thing. Ecclesiastes 5:16 says, “This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?”
Let that phrase roll around in your mind for a bit: “Toils for the wind.” You know what that means? Reach out and grab yourself a big ole handful of the wind. Go ahead, try it. No, you’ve got to really try hard. “Hold your teeth right,” as my dad likes to say.
Can’t do it can you? It’s an impossible task. You’ve expended all that energy in futile effort trying to get something you can never obtain. Nor can you find your satisfaction in shirts and sweaters and shoes. That’s what I was trying to do. Simply put, satisfaction cannot be captured in earthly things.
I hated what I was doing. I hated the desire for the next cute thing. I hated telling myself I’m just going to pop in this store to look, knowing that it wasn’t really true. I hated purposely shopping on nights my husband would be out so it would be easier to get things into my closet. I hated the short-lived satisfaction I got from something new, and I hated that I kept telling myself I would stop. Just this last time, and then I’ll be done. But most of all I hated that I was walking is disobedience to God, yet I desired to obey Him. I wanted to please my Lord, and it grieved me that I wasn’t. And I couldn’t fix it.
"For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15 ESV).
Oh, how these words of Romans 7 have pierced my heart and caused me to wrestle with this monster of sin!
"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out" (Romans 7:18 ESV).
"Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten" (James 5:2 ESV).
"Beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15 ESV).
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food" (Isaiah 55:2).
So who, then, will help me, Lord? I cannot do this on my own.
For part 2 of "Toiling for the Wind," click here.