This past weekend, I received a lesson about societal brainwashing and human nature.
…From a little girl.
My husband Will and I went up to Rochester, NY to visit our Goddaughter Grace. It was a few days before her birthday. We bought her two books (her family is big on reading books together), and a stuffed bear. The bear was particularly meaningful, because it was bought in a fundraiser for a children’s cancer hospital. Grace’s mom is a multiple-time cancer survivor.
So Grace opens up all the presents, and immediately this dialogue happens:
Grace: More presents?
Mom: No more presents, Grace. Uncle Will and Auntie Becca gave you three great presents.
Grace: I want FOUR presents!
Friends, Grace is turning three years old. A barely-three year old has already made up her mind that the more stuff she can get her hands on, the better.
Here’s the interesting part. She’s not learning this at home.
Her parents would never consider themselves minimalists, but they work hard to make sure Grace and her brother do not buy into our rampant consumer culture. They rotate their toys. They keep the number of toys to a minimum. The kids read with their parents or play inside/outside most of the time. And they rarely come into contact with advertising at home, since the only media the kids watch just a few times a week is YouTube (seeing only 1-2 ads for a long kids’ show).
So where is she getting this? How has she already bought into the idea that more is better??
Two important forces are at play here. And being aware of these forces is key to living a Christian minimalist lifestyle.
1. Brainwashing by our consumer society is a real thing.
Although Grace’s family is good at keeping her away from ads at home, and keeping her toys at a minimum, advertising is insidious. Grace still comes into contact with ads at movies, on billboards, in stores, and pretty much anywhere else you can think of.
She also plays with other kids at daycare. Kids are susceptible to other kids’ interests, and she has no doubt heard other kids wanting more and pining for that next toy.
Adults like to think that we aren’t as susceptible to ads as kids are. But the truth is, ads are everywhere. We are constantly told that we need to buy the next thing to be better looking, feel complete, be our best. That affects us. And it starts affecting us earlier and earlier in life, as shown by Grace’s reaction to presents.
We are also affected by those around us. Conforming to societal expectations of appearance, living situation, etc. and keeping up with the Joneses are very real pressures.
As I was watching Grace and thinking of these things, I was reminded of Romans 12:2. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
We are called to live counter-culturally as Christians. We are called to live a life free of the need to constantly buy and consume. And God is here to help us break consumer society’s hold on our minds, hearts, and wallets.
2. We are broken and sinful.
Societal brainwashing aside, Grace has something else working against her. WE have something else working against US. We are sinful and broken. We have an innate need to stockpile and think more is better.
For example, check out Exodus 16. The Israelites are wandering the wilderness, and God promises to provide manna from heaven to feed them. They’re supposed gather just enough for the day each morning. On the 6th day, they are to gather twice as much so that they can rest on the 7th day.
Everything goes well until they gather double (as they are supposed to) on the 6th day. Rather than resting the next day, though, they GO OUT TO GET MORE MANNA. They had double the portion, enough for two days, and they STILL went out to get more.
We have this sinful tendency to accumulate as many things as possible– because we ultimately don’t trust God to provide what we need. God promises to provide for us so many times in Scripture, but we have a hard time believing it. So we shop and buy and stockpile and constantly want more.
Whenever I have the urge to buy and stockpile, I read Paul’s words in Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God will provide what we need.
We know logically that more isn’t better, yet we still fall prey to our own sinful nature and society’s bombarding messages.
How is God helping to break your chains of consumer society brainwashing and your sinful tendency to always want more?