I preached a sermon recently about shopping (heard many of those?), and so it’s fair to say my mind has been pretty focused on the topic.
We all shop, and most of us do it more than we need to. It’s become an obsession across the Western world, and even, increasingly, beyond.
Forgive the hideous generalizations that follow, but research indicates that women are more likely to buy clothes, accessories and make-up, along with all the supplies you need to take care of all your dependents.
Men, on the other hand, are more drawn to music, gadgets and entertainment.
Why? There are a lot of answers that include (but are not limited to):
â— Fitting in with our peers
â— Seeking happiness
â— Becoming bored with our old stuff
â— Wanting to become a better version of ourselves
â— Making our kids happy
â— Finding the advertisements really cool and compelling
â— Passing the time
â— Making our lives more efficient
â— Finding it easier to buy items for myself rather than borrowing from friends
We look to the acquisition of “stuff,” which we rarely need, to answer all kinds of questions and insecurities that they never will be able to answer.
And because everything around us is just feeding all that wanting, it’s become the normal thing to do.
I’m no lover of shopping, mostly because I hate the agony of wanting so much stuff and not being able to have it.
So it’s more true to say I have it in me to be a huge lover of shopping, but I am scared by how quickly I start plotting “ways to make more money to buy more stuff” and so I have opted for a more radical solution.
I realized that if I stopped going to the shops, I stopped wanting to buy stuff. So that’s my primary strategy for shopping: Don’t go. But since we all have to shop for food to eat, it’s not an entirely practical approach to life.
I read two articles recently that prompted further reflection about this topic. The first article was by Pete Rollins titled “I Believe in Child Labour, Sweatshops and Torture.” The other was in The Guardian with the headline, “Admit It. You Love Cheap Clothes. And You Don’t Care About Child Slave Labour.”
Both articles shone a searing light on the reality that we know plenty about the horrific injustices of how our consumerism is kept afloat – sweatshops, child labor and the destruction of the environment – and yet most of the time we don’t care enough to let it affect our rampant consuming.
This doesn’t even include other closely related issues, such as how disastrous the amount of stuff we throw away is becoming.
We allow ourselves to be reassured by the declared good intentions of well-meaning companies and we leave it there. And things don’t change.
We tell ourselves that we believe in justice, human rights and stewardship of the environment, but when it comes to whether or not we buy that nice, cheap dress or that non-fair trade chocolate bar, we don’t let anything hold us back.
Rollins’ article went further, asserting that the reason that we can’t face the truth of our own indifference and hypocrisy – namely, that we tell ourselves that we’re better than our behavior would suggest – is that we don’t understand grace.
“In grace (the experience of actually accepting that you are accepted) we can admit to who we are without excuses or even trying to change. For in grace we accept that we are accepted as we are and don’t have to change anything,” Rollins stated.
“The power of grace really comes to light when we realize that it is only as we are able to find this acceptance and admit to our darkness that the darkness begins to dissipate and our basic operating code begins to change.”
It is only grace that makes any kind of change or growth possible in the long-term, I believe. And when it comes to the bigger picture of our own often compulsive consumption, grace also offers a pathway through.
Grace says that we are accepted and loved as we are now, not as the version of ourselves that we aspire to be. We already have all that we are looking for, so we need not search for meaning, significance and identity through consumption.
Some people look for this grace within themselves; I find that I need it to come from elsewhere. So may we give and receive grace as we seek to find a just and liberated pathway through the challenges of wall-to-wall retail opportunities.
Jenny Flannagan is part-actress, part-writer, part-filmmaker and part-Tearfund employee. She lives in South London with her husband, Andy, and blogs at JennyFromTheBlock, where a version of this article first appeared.