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It’s everywhere-the pressure to collect stuff. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “He Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins,” and the one that says, “My Desires are Simple: I Want Everything.” More than a hundred years ago the poet, William Wordsworth, bemoaned the sorry state of affairs even then, when people were preoccupied “getting and spending.”
Advertisers see to it that this message is perpetuated as they spend billions of dollars every year trying to blur the distinction between wants and needs. “Retail therapy” is touted as an emotional boost. Shopaholic is a common term. And many of us say we ought to haul a bag of stuff out of the house every time we haul one in. But we don’t. We just accumulate more and more stuff. If you’ve lived in your house five years or more, a move seems unthinkable because of all the junk you’ll have to pore through.
And some of us actually have a “bucket list” not only of experiences we want to have, but belongings-a particular piece of jewelry, a gigantic McMansion, a boat, a dream car. The world encourages us to compete with one another to have the priciest, most prestigious things: a cruise on the best cruise line. A painting by the best artist. The latest flat screen TV. The most versatile cell phone. The most expensive sporting equipment. Some of us race through life building our portfolio of stocks and bonds. We invest in huge parcels of land. We become collectors and connoisseurs. And some of us believe that these things prove our success, our business acumen, our genius.
We die, of course, and leave our cars in the driveway and our jewelry in a box. Our children sometimes fight over the spoils, also believing that possession of these treasures will add to their worth. And so it goes.
Once in a while you hear of someone who sees things differently. More than two thousand years ago, so the story says, a man saw the Greek philosopher, Socrates, staring at the many enticing offerings in a marketplace. He asked why Socrates never bought anything. “I am always amazed to see just how many things there are that I don’t need,” Socrates said.
And, occasionally, you read about someone who lived modestly but was a secret multimillionaire, leaving a fortune to charity. Or someone who built orphanages and hospitals around the world, while living in a tiny apartment. These are the rare few who escaped the clutches of social pressure, who ignored media messages, and found the key to happiness. They got it right. They chose to bless others with their wealth, instead of turning into Scrooge McDuck.
And this is who we should be, as Saints in these latter days. In the Doctrine and Covenants 117:13, it couldn’t be plainer. Joseph Smith shared this revelation for Oliver Granger: “… for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.” This doesn’t mean we have to wear sackcloth and ashes, or give every last stick of furniture to the poor and live on a rug in an otherwise empty room. It simply means we need to make a course adjustment and reorder our priorities. If we’ve been focusing on our increase, instead of upon our sacrifice, then we’ve gotten it wrong. We’re supposed to be consecrating our lives and our substance to the Lord, not to the race to keep up with the Joneses.
The Lord is not going to ask you, someday, to tell about all the exciting features of your car, or if you had granite counter tops. He won’t care if you had a chevron-print sun dress, piles of craft supplies, or the ultimate outdoor kitchen and barbecue. And none of these things are evil; it’s just that sometimes the pursuit of them distracts us from our first obligation, which is to sacrifice, serve, and help others. It’s fine to have fine things, just not if having them is your primary purpose. You alone know how your scales balance, and whether your quest for stuff has become an obsession.
I think about that advice to Oliver Granger, now, when I’m asked to serve in some way, whether in my calling or just as needs arise. There’s usually something we’d each rather do, as service is often inconvenient. But then I ask myself, which choice would be most sacred to the Lord? Which one can I dedicate to Him?
I don’t have this right, yet. I fall victim to the adorable home accent, the irresistible kitchen gadget, the cute sweater. But I’m learning. Today I’m less inclined to squander money that could bless someone else. Today I think of ways to make a difference, and I define “fun” differently than in the past. Today I’m more thrilled about missionary and temple work than amusement park rides or “thrill seeking” adventures. My need to impress others shrinks almost weekly, and my self-contentment grows by equal increments.
It’s a little bit like making the mental shift from “living to eat,” to “eating to live.” It doesn’t mean you don’t eat anymore, it means you no longer make it the focus of your life. We talk often of the Christ-centered life. Maybe, in addition to asking ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” we should ask ourselves, “What Would Jesus Buy?”
Joni Hilton is “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills at http://bit.ly/YourYouTubeMom
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
Hilton’s most recent LDS comedy, Funeral Potatoes-The Novel, is available at LDS bookstores. She is currently serving as Relief Society President of her ward in Northern California.