With many retailers keen to shift unsold Christmas stock by extending the sales in order to make room for their Spring collections, its tempting to think “If I just buy this one more outfit, I’ll be satisfied.” We rationalise ‘need’ because it’s a bargain or because buying something new makes us feel better. We are mesmerised and seduced by beautiful people who appear in adverts to tell us we can be successful, happy and fulfilled and will look just like them if we buy their product. Using everything from greed, lust or humour their message is “Use me, buy me, wear me, drink me, drive me, own me, put me in your hair… and you can be just like me.” And sadly we often allow ourselves to believe them.
James Dobson describes how he learnt this lesson. “I learned how to play Monopoly from my grandmother. She was a wonderful person. She raised six children. She was a widow by the time that I knew her. But she was the most ruthless Monopoly player I have ever known in my life. She understood that the name of the game was to acquire. When she played and I got my initial money from the bank, I would just try to hold onto it, because I didn’t want to lose any of it. She spent everything, bought stuff she landed on as soon as she could, and she’d mortgage it to buy more stuff. And of course, the way the game goes, eventually she would accumulate everything. She would be the master of the board. She understood that money was how you keep score in the game, possessions are a matter of survival. And she beat me every time. And at the end of the game she would look at me and she’d say, “One day you’ll learn how to play the game.” She was kind of cocky, my grandmother.
When I was about ten, I played every day through the Summer holidays with a friend. It dawned on me the only way to win was total commitment to acquisition. That summer I learned how to play the game. And by the time autumn rolled around, I was more ruthless than even my grandmother. I went to play her, and I was willing to do anything to win. I was willing to bend the rules. I played with sweaty palms. Slowly, cunningly I exposed the soft underbelly of my grandmother’s weakness. Relentlessly, inexorably, I drove her off the board.
The game does strange things to you. I can still remember the day like yesterday. I looked at my grandmother. This is the person who taught me how to play. She was an old woman by now. She was a widow. She had raised my mother. She loved me. And I took everything she had. I destroyed her financially and psychologically. I watched her give her last dollar and quit in utter defeat. This was the greatest moment of my life.
And then she had one more lesson to teach me, my grandmother. Then she said to me, “Now it all goes back in the box.” It all goes back in the box. All of the houses and hotels, Mayfair and Park Lane, all of those railway stations and utilities, all of that wonderful money. It all goes back in the box,” she said. But I didn’t want it all to go back in the box. I wanted to leave the board out permanently — bronze it maybe, as a memorial to what I had achieved. See, when she said, “It all goes back in the box,” it was kind of a way of saying to me, “None of it’s really yours. It doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own any of it. You just used it for a little while. And now it all goes back in the box. And next time it’ll all go to somebody else. That’s the way the game works. So when you play the game, don’t forget this one lesson. When the game comes to an end and the game always comes to an end, the stuff all goes back in the box.”
There is a simple, two-word question we tend not to ask ourselves. “Then what?” When I’ve reached the top, then what? When I have it all, then what? When I finally have enough, when I am financially secure, when I’ve got the sought after promotion, made the ultimate purchase, got the ideal home, assured financial security, and climbed the ladder of success to the highest rung, and then the thrill wears off–and it will wear off—sooner or later you’re faced with the nagging question, “Then what?”
It was to answer that question and provide the antidote to our condition that Jesus promised,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:19-26).
To find out more about how you can experience the fulfilment Jesus promises, we invite you to come to our Christianity Explored taster evening Thursday 9th February at 7:30pm – light supper included. Christianity Explored is a 7 week course designed to introduce you and your friends to Jesus Christ and how through him we can know God personally.
May the Lord bless you and those you love.
With grateful thanks to John Ortberg and James Dobson for the inspiration behind this article for Connection magazine.