Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's All About the Shopping

And so it begins: The “holiday” or “Christmas” season, often accompanied by the word “shopping.” The Thanksgiving edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel landed at my door this morning filled with an inch or more of sale inserts whose purpose it is to lure me into stores at 4 and 5 a.m. on Black Friday with “door-buster” deals and “one-day-only” specials.

As a Christian and recovered shopper myself, I understand the psychology behind exuberant shopping at Christmas.

Christmas is the only time chronic shoppers can binge in stores guilt-free. After all, they’re shopping for Christmas. Is it so bad that a few items land in the cart that aren’t gifts for others, but gifts for themselves? It’s still Christmas shopping, right?

I read a survey that said 66% of people shopping on Black Friday will be shopping for themselves. I take that to mean what it says: for themselves; not for others. So the whole premise that Black Friday is a gift-shopping day is quickly becoming a myth, replaced by the reality that it is just a day off work to go fishing for great deals on yet more stuff for oneself.

For others, shopping at this time of year is exhausting because gift-giving, for them, is their ticket to recognition: they hope to find love and acceptance through the gifts they buy. So they frantically roam the stores seeking that perfect gift--and I do mean perfect--that will wow and impress the receiver and all who are in the room when the gift is opened.

I remember buying gifts for my extended family gift-exchange and thinking that the gift absolutely must reflect positively on me: it couldn’t be too cheap or too common, had to be exquisitely wrapped and ultimately the hit of the family gathering. The gift was more about me than the other person. Under that mentality, Christmas shopping becomes a competition with other gift-givers, the stakes growing higher each year. This is exactly what the Bible admonishes against: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1). Yet for many, gift giving is their way of not only attempting to be seen, but to be loved, befriended, accepted and affirmed.

William Gurnall, born in 1616 in England, is the author of the Puritan classic “The Christian in Complete Armour.” In volume one of this classic, he writes:

“We lose the good of material things by expecting too much from them. Those who try hardest to please themselves with earthly goods find the least satisfaction in them.”

I would say the same is true for gift-giving. I’m not at all against giving gifts. I am, however, wary of the motivation and expectation that lies behind much gift giving, be it gifts to others or so-called gifts to ourselves. When we expect gifts to do things they can’t, we become disillusioned at the result and vow to shop harder next time.

Gurnall has the solution for this vicious cycle of emotional and physical bondage to gifts, gift-giving, and shopping, of which I can personally attest: “All of our frustrations,” he writes, “could be easily avoided if we would turn away from things and look to Christ for happiness.”

This Christmas, I’m not suggesting people stop giving gifts entirely. What I am suggesting, though, is to start with the only true and perfect gift that never disappoints: Jesus Christ Himself.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

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