Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Tyranny of ‘Stuff’

Recently I talked with a young man from Louisiana who had participated in short-term missions in Belize. The trips shifted his values paradigm. “All the things I had heard growing up that are supposed to make you happy – none of those things were present, and yet the people were joyful,” he noted.

Viewing news coverage of last week’s earthquake in Haiti reminded me of his comment. Amid great pain and despair, we witnessed people rejoicing just to be alive. They weren’t fretting about “stuff” – cars, Blackberries or wide-screen TVs – partly because they didn’t have those even before the quake, but also because severe adversity reveals what really is important.

A noted financial planner observes that some of the most miserable people he knows are clients with inherited wealth. Aware they did nothing to earn their riches, heirs live in daily dread of somehow losing it – knowing they would have no idea how to regain it. Yet in much of the Western world, materialism wields enormous influence.

“How much is enough?”, we sometimes wonder. One of the Rockefellers purportedly gave this response: “Just a little bit more.” With “a little bit more” always a moving target, no wonder we feel caught in a rat race.

Bobby McFerrin achieved musical stardom with a catchy little tune with the lilting Caribbean beat, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” That message might seem a bit simplistic, but certainly beats awakening each morning to agonize over how to preserve our stuff.

Centuries ago, the apostle Paul offered an antidote to “tyranny of stuff.” He wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12). In another letter he added, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). In other words, don’t worry – be happy

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