Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Thing Trap

I was going through some files and ran across a chapter outtake from my book, Little Sins, Big Problems.

Overcoming Unhealthy Give & Take

I received a special gift once. I remember reaching deep into a cake-size blue box and working through clouds of white tissue paper. My fingers landed on cold metal. I remember audibly taking in some air as I retrieved a lovely antique silver box covered in textured swirls and bygone metal loops. I touched my hand to my heart and said “It’s just beautiful… thank you.” To which the gift giver quietly but purposefully relayed a condition around which the gift could be kept.

So I had just opened and accepted a gift that was not really a gift. But a strange loan of sorts. I could feel the blood swoosh from my feet to my head as I contemplated the deeper meaning behind the gift and what it said about the giver's feelings toward me.

Many years have passed and the sting of that incident has faded. What’s more, this unusual present would ultimately become one of life’s most special gifts. Because it would begin for me an uncomfortable but spiritually essential journey to a place of discernment about the things in life that really matter.

A Biblical Perspective on Things

The Bible tells us this: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) This is one of those passages that makes you sit up a little straighter in your chair! But is the Lord reflecting upon the evil nature of wealth in and of itself? In Proverbs, we are told that “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and He adds no trouble to it.” (Proverbs 10:22) If God thought that things were evil, certainly He wouldn’t reward people with the wealth to acquire them!

Instead, the verse about the camel and the needle speaks to the way in which people can be altered and corrupted by money. Wealth exposes people to a world of options. Before long, we find ourselves in a looping pursuit to acquire and upgrade. Wealth can make us proud and vain. It distances us from the poor whom Jesus tells us to know and help. And wealth exposes us to the snares of temptation. These are the problems with things.

Consider the rise and fall of Solomon. A man inordinantly blessed with wisdom and riches who imploded when he turned from the Hand that fed him.

So it is not the things that bring us down. It is our relationship with those things that gets us into trouble.

Unhealthy Give & Take: The Things That Poison Our Soul

A gift can reveal a lot about the giver if we look closely for clues to the motivation behind the gift. And while most gifts are a healthy expression of celebration and love, there are times when the things we give to others and the things we buy for ourselves have a darker underlying basis. It’s helpful to look at the unhealthy relationships in terms of the giver or taker and his or her motivations.

The Puppeteer

She is the gift giver with a hidden agenda. The generous and often costly items bestowed upon you by The Puppeteer appear to be coming from a big loving heart. But if you get beyond the surface to her motivations, you will see that her gifts are not coming from a healthy place. They are used as tools to control and manipulate. The Puppeteer is trying to buy you. She wants to be pulling the strings. The Puppeteer has a core-deep need for external validation and she mistakenly equates gifts with love.

. Bestows gifts frequently and for “no reason”
. Selects gifts that are often intimate in nature (e.g., home furnishings)
. Reminds recipient of gifts given in the past and inquires about their use
. Leverages generosity to create a “debt” to invade boundaries

The Squirrel

She is the hoarder. The nuts in her cheek are the shoes in her closet, the 17 jars of peanut butter in her pantry, and the stuff that’s spilling out of cracks and crevices all over her house. The Squirrel amasses things to create an earthly cocoon of security. Clothing and accessories and an exploding pantry help insulate her from uncertainty and fear of the unknown.

. Not a “cheerful giver”
. Has things and “back-up” to things (e.g., four pairs of the same shoe)
. Worries about her things (e.g., plastic protectors are still on the lamps)
. Selfish and often a poor listener

The Peacock

He uses things to puff himself up and cultivate an identity that masks his low self-esteem. The Peacock likes expensive clothes and jewelry. He drives a late model car and likes to flaunt his financial prowess. His zip code and upper-tier associates are important to him. He lets you know he’s in the money.

. Brags a lot
. Flaunts expensive clothes and accessories
. Likes to compete with other peacocks
. Full of unsolicited advice

The Junkie

She needs to acquire things to get a “feel-good” high. Instead of turning to God, she goes to Saks. The high from a shopping fix feels real good. But she’s going to come down hard and fast. When she does, she’s depressed. Then she’s off to Nordstrom’s...

. Shops ‘til she drops – often!
. Prone to extreme highs and lows
. May be deeply in debt
. Often feels helpless and out of control (except when she’s shopping)

Coming Soon: Five Steps to Liberation from the Thing Trap

(Pic by Irish Typepad; see flickr.com for restrictions.)


Kreider said...

Hi Sarah. I love this post. It is so "you," by which I mean that it reveals your incredible skill as a writer/communicator. Your classification structure is so clear and the examples so concise. I assume that every word has recieved careful attention, that the author intended every word which was chosen. That assumption raises this question: I note the use of feminine pronouns throughout except in one case. Was that intentional? Is there any gender-specificity to the pronoun shift? See, I might assume that "she" is either to stand for all humanity ("She" has become the new "he" in gender-inclusive writing) or that you used "she" because the intended audience is female. In either case, and there are probably additional options, the use of several feminine pronouns and then the use of masculine pronouns for one group seems to call attention to itself.


Sarah Onderdonk said...

Hi Dr. Kreider!

What nice things you said. Thank you for all your encouragement.

Funny issue re. the peacock. You are the second person to ever bring it to my attention. The first was one of my editors... an author and compiler of Word Study guides. He came to the peacock and said, "We have a problem here. This needs to be changed to 'peahen' because a "peacock" is male peafowl." Huh? To my thinking "peahen" just wasn't going to work (ha!), so I convinced him to allow me to simply change the gender in the text from "she" to "he".

Obviously all of those defaults(peacock, junkie, etc.) could and do apply to men, too. Throughout the book, I use "she" because my audience for that book is primarily women (unlike this blog which is both). I have no problem at all using "he" as it's traditionally been used to reflect the universal person. Sometimes use of "she" in an attempt to be gender inclusive can be problemmatic (I think). Though it's becoming more common, it still makes an agenda headline the message (unless the agenda is the message!) The audience for my book is primarily Christian women. So I had a "she" in mind as I was writing.

So there you have it! I had forgotten all about the peafowl predicament... that was fun to recall. Thank you so much for posting. Always a pleasure to hear from you!


michael jensen said...

Oh that is so funny, if it weren't so sharp... I know a squirrel or two...

michael jensen said...

Oh that is so funny, if it weren't so sharp... I know a squirrel or two...