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Catalog Chaos

I should have seen it coming.  Mimi and Papa came to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, and it was a great time of eating and laughing.  But they brought with them their stack of catalogs from the paper promising Doorbusters and deals and Black Friday events that started on Labor Day.  Amy and I thumbed through them a bit and then left them out on our ottoman.  We should have known better!

After Mimi and Papa left, I was entering into the tryptophan/football coma that occurs each Thanksgiving afternoon.  The kids had been playing on the floor when all of a sudden I noticed that it had gotten a bit too quiet.  As I looked over, I noticed that the stack of circulars had spread their wings and fluttered about our family room like a pack of vultures descending on its prey.  Our kids had scattered out, pouring over each page, mesmerized with stuff, and it seemed pretty comical.  After all, I remember those weeks leading up to Christmas of scouring the Best catalog, circling all of the toys I must have like He-Man’s castle and a Nintendo Power Glove!

And it became clear that they were in their own coma.  Ford, my 7-year-old, was staring at advertisements for vacuum cleaners and make-up!  They had no clue what they were looking at, they just knew they wanted.  They had just discovered a treasure trove of demand and desire in themselves that they didn’t know existed.  Desire isn’t something we generally have to work to conjure up; it’s something that lurks under the surface and just needs an opportunity to awaken.

That’s the reason that our government pumps money into the system when it wants to “stimulate the economy”.  If you just give people some extra money, we’ll find plenty of ways to spend it.  Offer some “free” tax refunds, punish savers with 0% interest rates, and we can take care of the rest.  I think John Steinbeck was correct when he noted:

If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.

After we had our chuckles, my wife saw what was going on and decided to come to the rescue.  She wadded up a few of the catalogs and started a paper war with my daughter Caroline.  They were laughing so Ford entered into the fray to assault his mom with paper canon balls.  Then Parker, who just turned five, realized what was going on.  Except he had the opposite reaction.  It was as if a hobbit had stolen his precious, and his world started crumbling as his catalogs started crumpling.  “Noooooo!” he protested in literal tears over the atrocity.

While it’s only slightly embarrassing to acknowledge that my kids aren’t perfect, the bigger acknowledgement is that I do the exact same things.  I’ve traded in my toys for more money, sports events, getaways, buying an RV, and on and on.  The allure is the same – that I’ll find the one thing that will finally scratch that itch, satisfy the cravings, fill the hole.  I know in my head that they can’t, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.

What I want to do for myself is to crumple up my own catalogs and start a war on consumerism.  And it starts in my own heart.  Not that spending money is bad or wrong or unspiritual.  But it’s easy to look to the things in my mental catalog for the gifts that can only come from the Father.  It’s tempting to say yes to more because more seems like a great thing on the front end, whether it’s a second football game or an extra helping of sweet potato casserole (okay, I knew that wouldn’t be a good idea but did it anyway).  But often “more” leaves us feeling even emptier than we started.  It’s like the disappointment on Christmas morning when my kids open their last gift.  No matter if it was 2 or 20 gifts, the response is always “are there any more?”

The good news is that there is a holiness in that disappointment.

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself – Blaise Pascal

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is this experience of disappointment from the things of this world.  It’s how we get pointed back to Him.  Without that feeling, we’d just go on and on searching for more and more.  When we experience letdown, that is God shouting to us that He has so much more in store for us.  So when you feel that remorse from binging this season, be reminded of the fullness that will come through emptying yourself so you can receive the gift of Christ.