As a way to reject the culture of advertising that has wrapped me, and our society, up in a tight bind of consumerism and competition pitting neighbor against neighbor, I vowed during the Church season of Lent to purchase nothing new or eat at restaurants that advertised. This list included keeping my old smart phone running and avoiding my self-indulgent visits to Starbucks and my weekly Sunday morning iced coffee at McDonalds.
Over the past 40 days, I have slipped a couple of times. The first week I made a non-grocery purchase at Costco. What troubled me is that I did it without thinking. A couple of weeks later, I had a clergy meeting at a Starbucks. Instead of getting just water, I did, in fact, order an iced coffee. Those failures remind me of a mantra from AA, relapse is a part of recovery. Case in point, waiting at SeaTac airport last week, I walked by no less than four Starbucks while feeling I deserved a pick me up. I think previous failures helped my resolve to do better when the temptation was high and I did not succumb.
Now at the conclusion of Lent, I am concerned about re-entry into the consumer world. At summer camp, we would be without candy for 10 days during which fruit tasted sweeter and better. After camp, I’d eat a lot of candy to make up for lost time and fruit then didn’t seem so attractive. If experience is a guide does that mean I am going to double up on iced coffee purchases? Will I buy more new things than I need? Like alcoholics in recovery, I don’t want to go back. I have had my little relapses and am ready for full recovery.
During Lent, I discovered an idol in my heart called iDeserve. It was a hole that tempted me to buy things because I deserve it. It’s a sneaky little idol that jumps out at me, like when I’m in line at the grocery store. It whispers, “Come on, pick up that candy bar, you deserve it.” If left unchecked, I might find myself at a Range Rover dealership, because iDeserve said so. Jesus has filled in that place where the idol used to be. I don’t want Christ to diminish now that Lent is ending. In fact, I want him to increase. Yet, I have self-doubts. Maybe Lent isn’t long enough. Maybe I have not set up strong enough defenses. Or maybe I can rationalize my old habits.
But Easter can also be the beginning of recognition as to when our consumeristic culture has taken hold of my heart and Easter can be an escape route from it. Because of Jesus’ love and his example of resisting temptation, I think I can resist if I follow in his footsteps. However, I have lingering questions. Can I buy a new smart phone to replace my failing and aged one and resist feeling superior to others? Will I be able to purchase a drink at Starbucks and not think I am more special than the person who doesn’t have one? Can I resist being swayed by commercials for large restaurant chains and eat at locally owned establishments? It is my choice. I can retreat back to old familiar ways. Or, I can continue my Lenten practice and follow Jesus through every season in the Church calendar. I want to do better because I want to serve him better and idols get in the way of that resolve. Returning to that AA mantra, I can accomplish nothing in the way of improvement without the help of God.