This year’s hot item is next year’s garbage. But when our focus is on storing up treasures in heaven, then we’re focused on the things of Christ. The things of eternity. Things like the Gospel and love and peace and joy.
There are typically two types of people—those who start Christmas shopping in October, and those who start in mid-December.
I usually fall somewhere in the middle, starting my shopping right after Thanksgiving and finishing in plenty of time for Christmas. Then begins the wrapping process. Last year, I decided to spare my back and started wrapping as soon as I purchased gifts and brought them home. That way, there wasn’t one long, painful evening bent over Scotch tape and ribbon.
For some reason this year, though, I started panicking in mid-November that I hadn’t started shopping yet. I was acting more like it was a week before Christmas rather than just a week before Thanksgiving! So, I made a list, checked it twice (thanks for the idea, Santa), and hit the stores.
I found several good deals and made an instant dent in my list, much to my control-freak, thrive-on-productivity glee. Then something happened. I couldn’t stop shopping. I fell for social media ads, clicked add to cart on Amazon every few hours, and constantly scrolled through Etsy when I was supposed to be getting work done. Any excuse to stop in Target or my favorite discount store turned into purchasing several items each time, to the point that I wasn’t even sure who I was going to give the gift to, just that I needed to have it and surely someone would want it.
I had become a retail marketer’s dream customer. (Facepalm.)
It made me start to wonder… has our culture gone too far with holiday shopping? In a word, yes. Advertisements are everywhere, from our TV screens to our email sidebars to billboards on the side of the road.
I can blame tempting ads and slashed prices and holiday discounts as the reason why I went overboard, but at the end of the day, the only blame is within my own heart. Was I truly seeking a good price? Or was there something deeper happening that I was attempting to cover up?
As Christians, we’re called to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, including our finances. And while my shopping spree thankfully didn’t lead to any financial detriment, it did reveal a heart posture of mine that needed tweaking.
Here are three ways to avoid going too far this holiday season with your shopping:
1. Slow down.
Luke 12:15 (ESV) And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Shopping, in and of itself, isn’t bad. It’s not a sin. But when we’re blazing through the stores, wielding our credit card like a weapon, and not slowing down to think through what’s wise, we’re being foolish. Do you really need that sale? Is it actually saving you money on something you would have purchased anyway? Or are you falling for a gimmick? If we take time to slow down and even walk away for a moment, we’ll make much wiser decisions. If you leave a store and are still thinking hours or days later about that particular find, then go back and get it! But if not, you just saved yourself the funds.
The Bible tells us to “take care” and “be on guard” on such things like covetousness. To me, that implies it’s an easy thing to sneak up on you. We might think we’re just shopping, but before we know it, the lure of the world and the glitz of gluttony and covetousness can seep in. Where covetousness lurks, idolatry isn’t far behind!
The other day, I was having a rough afternoon, so I grabbed my purse and headed out. I knew browsing the crowded aisles full of distracting merchandise would be a band-aid for what was wrong. But band-aids don’t cure the root issue. I needed to sit down with the Lord and pray through some things, but instead, I chose to numb my hurt with an iced coffee and plenty of shopping bags.
Don’t hide from what’s going on inside your heart. Slow down this holiday season and make good choices—for your own mental health, and for your checking account.
2. Be intentional.
I love giving gifts that mean something. It’s easy to grab a gift card, and there’s a lot of people in my life—especially broke teenagers!—who love getting them. But my favorite thing to do each season is think of something meaningful, sentimental, or nostalgic for the loved one on my list, and try to come up with something that will go the distance. Keeping this mindset usually helps me be more intentional with my list and not blow money on the first thing I see that someone might like.
Matthew 6:20 (ESV) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Our closets and attics fill up fast with things that will rust or could be stolen, don’t they? But when we gift with purpose—be it through giving something special, eternal, or through attempting to meet a true need—we’re storing up things that will last the test of time. We know all too well that sweaters get holes and food gets consumed. Bikes are quickly outgrown and toys break. This year’s hot item is next year’s garbage. But when our focus is on storing up treasures in heaven, then we’re focused on the things of Christ. The things of eternity. Things like the Gospel and love and peace and joy.
Think about it—our money and our time inevitably follow where our heart goes. And where our money is spent indicates exactly where our heart lies. It's a cycle only we can control. Is your heart in the bargain bins of a department store, or in the true meaning of Christmas?
We can also be more intentional with our holiday spending when we remember this verse in Hebrews 13:5 (ESV), Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Contentment goes hand in hand with being a good steward of our funds. If we’re trying to impress our neighbors or one-up another family member with who can buy the best gift or who can overdecorate their yard, we’re not being content with what we have. There’s nothing wrong with stringing Christmas lights on the roof or baking an oven full of cookies. But when our hearts start needing it to solve our inner discontent, we have a problem. We’re depending on things and not Christ. Be intentional not only with your holiday spending this year, but with your heart posture. You’ll find a lot more joy in the season that way.
3. Be still.
This one is especially hard to do. The holidays can stir a lot of pain for a lot of people, and it’s certainly a lot easier to browse online sites than it is to face the hollowness inside. It’s a lot less hassle to click "add to cart" one more time than come face to face with the void we’re trying to fill in our spirits.
Whether it’s stress, depression, anxiety, or grief weighing on us, we must resist the urge to run to the stores and instead run to God. Retail therapy makes for fun jokes and memes, but truly, it’s a detriment to our souls. Shopping—even necessary shopping like at Christmas—can turn into an idol if we aren’t careful.
Before you go shopping, or even if you're in the middle of Target, if need be—stop. Be still before the Lord. Close your eyes and open your heart to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Invite Him into the process with you.
Matthew 6:24 (ESV) No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
The Bible makes it clear that we can’t be driven by two opposing forces. If our motivation and heart’s contentment rest in money, then it’s obviously not resting in God. This doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the money in our checking account or be grateful for the bonus at work. By all means, praise God for His gifts and His provision! But don’t let those factors be the driving force behind your Christmas season this year. Guard your heart against our culture’s overboard shopping frenzy and stay true to the meaning of the holidays—Emmanuel.
God with us.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/nicoletaionescu