I recently had the flu. Full blown influenza A. I spent four full days in bed and a couple more on half speed. It was truly awful. I can’t remember ever being so sick. But the worst thing about being sick for four days was day-time television.
I wasn’t interested in watching anything that required me to pay attention to the story. I didn’t have that much energy. I just wanted some background noise and moving pictures to stare at while I lay on the couch feeling totally miserable. So, I watched re-runs of Fixer Upper and House Hunters International.
I quite like these shows. That part was fine. I have no interest in renovating a house for myself, so it made perfect ‘no emotional energy required’ viewing. The worst part about watching so much TV all day is the commercials. They were dreadful! It’s just the same ads rolling over and over in every commercial break for hour upon hour, selling things people don’t need, can’t afford, and don’t even want, as if our lives will be over tomorrow if we don’t sign up and order immediately.
On my final day on the couch a new ad started playing. It was selling short term high interest loans. There are quite a few on the market at the moment. Most of the advertisements depict some kind of unexpected life crisis, like the light fittings falling out of the ceiling just before the in-laws are expected to arrive, and the loan fairy pops out and saves the day by lending you money.
But this ad was different. Instead of the loan fairy coming to save the day in a crisis, the opening lines of the commercial were something along the lines of, “What is it that you deserve? What do you dream of? Don’t wait any longer, you can have it now…”
Now, I’m no finance expert, and I’m not going to give you any financial advice on why it’s a good idea to have some money put away for emergencies or why you should stay away from dodgy loans. What makes me sad and angry is the way this mentality is so much a part of our culture. Everything in our society tells us that money (and the things you can buy with it) will make you happy and fulfilled. It is such a dangerous lie!
Most of us know it’s a lie, but we still get tricked into it in our day to day life because our whole culture operates this way. It’s a trap, and it can be hard to escape. Debt is crippling. It destroys families, relationships and lives. It weighs us down, and steels our joy.
Our family learned this lesson in a very personal way. My husband’s business took a hit as changes in the industry affected the demand for the services he provided. Over time the work declined and things got harder. We made the difficult decision just over a year ago to sell our home. We found ourselves completely debt free. You can read about the experience in a blog I wrote last year here. At the time there was a real feeling of grief, and even failure. What we probably didn’t expect was the feeling of freedom.
All of a sudden we weren’t tied down to any particular place or plan. The world was literally our oyster. It opened up possibilities and options that weren’t on the table when we were working to pay back our debt. We were free.
The questions the commercial asks are not bad questions. What do you deserve? What do you dream of? These are good questions to ask! But, the answer to these questions is not necessarily to borrow money! The answer is to develop a plan, to work hard, to sacrifice, and to wait. Difficult things to make sound attractive in an advertisement.
Jesus teaches us a lot about money. The heart of his message is simple, “Don’t fall in love with money.” Jesus never says that money is wrong or sinful or that we shouldn’t have it, work for it or use it. Just don’t love it. Don’t give your heart away to money. Don’t trust it to save you or give your life a purpose.
As I have tried to embrace a simpler and more minimalist approach to my life I am definitely more content. I used to walk the entire length of my local shopping centre every single week to see what bargains I could find. I used to go ‘window shopping’ just to see what the latest trends were each season. I shopped the specials aisles and had a wardrobe full of clothes that I didn’t love and didn’t fit me that well, but they were all cheap!
I still browse occasionally, but it’s much less often, and if I buy something it’s because I know I love it and I will wear it often. I own a lot less, and I am happier. I have more time, more peace, and more freedom. I’m far from perfect - I have a long way to go. But, I can definitely tell the difference between me now and me a year ago. I like the new me much better.
I am determined to disentangle my heart from the lure of money, but it will be an ongoing temptation and challenge. I know the first step in being free is recognising the lie, so I will happily get angry while I watch day-time television advertisements promising salvation in consumerism. I invite you to ask yourself the question, "Who or what has your heart?"