Yesterday, I went shopping at Old Navy. I have been on the hunt for a classic, slim jean skirt that I could wear in the winter with my boots. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I finally found exactly what I was looking for at Old Navy on the clearance rack for $8.50. Can’t beat that.
While I was there, I also found a tank top for $3.75, a sweater for $6.00, another sweater for $9.50, and a scarf for $12.50. In college, I never bought things off the sale rack – I felt like it was too much effort. Now, not only am I surprised by how often I find great deals, I am also surprised at how rewarding it is to save money!
All that aside, I left Old Navy feeling slightly guilty. Even though I had only bought things that were on sale (with the exception of the scarf), and only spent $44.34 on 5 items, something didn’t sit right. I went next door to Michael’s and bought some wooden letters to spell HOPE, which I am going to paint pink and orange, decorate with sequins and polka dots and hang up in my office, as well as a basket that I’m going to fill with lots of food and goodies for my friend D for Christmas. That was another $32.67.
As I pulled out of the parking lot with my purchases, an unsettling yet subtle feeling of guilt stole over me. The same feeling I have any time I buy clothes, accessories, or shoes for myself. Frivolous things. Unnecessary things. Things I cannot justify needing in any way, shape or form. The feeling is then compounded by spending money on anything additional, even if they’re groceries.
At first, it was the needy, hungry kids over in Africa with their sad puppy dog eyes that gave me guilt over a new sweater. Then, it was the homeless in Denver who needed a Thanksgiving meal that cost the exact amount of a new pair of shoes. And just recently, it was the realization that I was shopping for myself during the holidays, when “everyone else” is shopping for other people.
Most forms of guilt are from the devil. I know this because the Bible explicitly disputes the things the devil tells me to feel guilty about. Like I’m not good enough. I can never change. I’m not a loving person. I only think about myself. In Christ, those things are utterly untrue.
But when it comes to clothes and the like, there are no Bible verses to back me up. In fact, the only verses I can find actually point to the opposite:
“Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).
“For they gave according to their means…and beyond their means, of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:3).
“Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing…” (1 Peter 3:3).
“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
“But God said to [her], ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the [clothes] that you have [amassed], whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20, bracketed words changed for emphasis)
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
All of these are very persuasive but none penetrated deeper into my heart than Romans 14:23, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Even though I don’t believe that shopping or clothing are sins in and of themselves, and I do believe that many Christians can shop and buy clothes in faith and with thanksgiving, I cannot escape the fact that I, right now, am not one of them. My guilt cannot be rationalized away. Believe me – I’ve tried!
I’ve tried to tell myself that since we donate to our church, support 2 campus ministering couples, and sponsor a Compassion child, I can spend some money on myself. I tell myself that I don’t buy clothes very often – maybe once every couple months – and that I usually find the good deals. I analyze each purchase to make sure it’s exactly what I want and that I love it. I try not to buy things that look exactly like something else I already have in my closet. And hey, I’m a lot more financially responsible than I used to be!!
My heart doesn’t buy it.
Alas, I have come to accept that since I cannot buy clothes in the freedom of faith that I am pleasing God, buying clothes (or shoes, accessories, purses, etc) is, for me, right now, a sin. As I was driving home feeling guilty, God asked me, “So if you feel so guilty every time you shop, why do you keep shopping?” I paused… and then said, “Good point.”
The deep feelings in my heart about this are written very succinctly by Thomas Merton, “The more goods I keep for my own enjoyment, the less there are for others. My pleasures and comforts are, in a certain sense, taken from someone else. And when my pleasures and comforts are inordinate, they are not only taken from another, but they are stolen. I must learn to deprive myself of good things in order to give them to others who have a greater need of them than I.”
I cannot escape the conviction that I should not be buying more things that I don’t need, at the expense of giving those resources to someone who could really use them. I have been fighting this feeling while continuing to shop because I wanted to know WHY I felt this way. It’s not a sin to shop – so why can’t I shop? But this morning, when I stopped and asked myself why this fight continued and I didn’t just yield to the conviction that shopping was a selfish desire and repent, I realized I hadn’t conceded because deep down, I want happiness in the forms of clothes. I wanted that more than I wanted to obey.
“Surely God isn’t asking me to give up buying new clothes,” I thought.
“But what if He is asking that?”
“Then I guess I have to give it up.”
So here I am, still not understanding exactly why this is a conviction of mine, but out of love for God and a desire to be obedient, I am going to stop buying clothes. I figure I have about 7 years before I’d literally need anything new. (Good motivation to workout I guess!) And I will only start again when I can do it in faith. Sans nagging voice in the back of my head telling me my money would be better spent elsewhere. Maybe this is the beginning of something big.