Friday, June 11, 2010

Impeded by Impulse

If you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. (Job 11.14-15)

Shopping and Buying

I’m a terrible shopper. Actually, I’m not a shopper at all. I’m a buyer, which is why I keep out of stores as much as possible. If I go into a store, intent on buying a single item, I guarantee I’ll leave with two or three bags filled with impulse purchases. A couple days ago, I walked into a bed & bath store to get a new shower mat. I was delighted to find the perfect one reduced to half-price. But I also came home with: a new toothbrush holder, matching soap dish, liquid hand soap, two collapsible laundry hampers, eight vacuum clothes storage bags, and a set of hanging storage bags. Since I was already out and within walking distance of the local bookshop, a fancy hair salon, a pet supply store, and a Gap, I also returned with: three new books, pricey bottles of shampoo and conditioner I thought I’d try, a few things for our cat, and three pairs of short pants. I had no idea I needed these things until I entered the first store. Truthfully, I don’t need them. All I did was spend an afternoon burdening myself with impulse purchases. I turned a quick errand into a costly adventure.

Some will no doubt relate to my predicament. Others will pat themselves on the back for having built up immunity to the buy-bug. Yet after reading Job 11.14-15 in the wake of my little whirlwind, I suspect we all can apply the shopping and buying metaphors to areas in our lives. Somewhere, somehow our lack of self-discipline gets the better of us. We start out looking for one thing, but in the process, we can’t resist picking up extraneous items that also catch our eye. In no time, we’re burdened with superfluous nonsense, none of it cheap. A good example of what I mean would be relationship “shopping.” Many people discover it ends in reckless buying. They find what they're looking for, but they also bring home impulsively purchased opinions, habits, attitudes, and values that weigh them down, clutter their lives, and expend precious time and energy. If we’re fortunate enough not to do this literally or with relationships, we may fall into this rut with religious beliefs, political ideology, social issues, etc. I suspect each of us on some level is impeded by impulse—i.e., careless buying instead of careful shopping.

Extracting Wisdom

The story of Job challenges us to see the truth in what his friends say, while conceding their reason for saying it is unfounded. They’re positive Job’s trials are punishment for disobedience, when they’re really tests to prove his integrity. Yet if their misguided motives negated the wisdom of their words, why record them at all? It would be much simpler—and clearer—to condense their visit into a brief passage: “Job’s friends grieved with him, trying to persuade him he had sinned. But Job resisted their counsel and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Thus, reading Job is a tricky exercise in extracting wisdom from knee-jerk rationale.

Of the three friends, Zophar is the harshest. The other two, Eliphaz and Bildad, focus more on God, respectively emphasizing His mercy and justice. Zophar, however, couldn’t be surer that Job’s hanging on to impulsive purchases that litter his life and cause problems between him and His Maker. “If you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,” Zophar tells Job, “then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.” Although this couldn’t be further off the beam in Job’s situation, the principle still merits serious consideration. When we think about what brings us shame, contributes to our instability, and fosters fear in our lives, we’re bound to find, to a one, we’ve bought into them without thinking. The problems they cause—the space they require, the effort they exact, and the deficits they create—are reasons enough to get rid of them. Suppose Zophar were our friend and he adopted the shopping and buying metaphors. He’d tell us: “You don’t need that junk. Take it back where you got it and don’t ever buy it again. You don’t really want it. You can’t really use it. All it’s good for is tripping over.” In our case, he’d be spot-on.

Shopping Savvy

My best friend is the savviest shopper I know. He doesn’t buy anything he doesn’t need or won’t use. He has no issue with paying top price for something truly necessary. On the other hand, for things he’d like to have but could live without, he won’t part with a penny to get them until he researches them thoroughly and finds where he can buy them at the least expense. That’s par for smart shoppers. But Jerry goes one step further. If it’s an item he’s adding, he imposes a waiting period before opening his wallet—to be certain he really wants it. If he’s replacing an old item with a new one, he removes the old one from his house and waits to see if he genuinely misses it. So, while others moan about redundancies and clutter, Jerry’s life grows more streamlined and simple. His shopping list is as much about casting off useless things as acquiring useful ones.

That’s the sort of shopping savvy Zophar endorses—resisting the urge to accumulate thoughts and tendencies that bog us down and displease God. Before we reach for ideas and idols, we should impose a waiting period to determine if we really want them. Before we replace one thing for something better, we should see if we could live without it altogether. We may find not having it at all frees us from shame, instability, and fear. Resisting impulsive impediments is how we keep our hands free from sin and protect our dwellings from evil.

Impulsiveness causes us to purchase thoughts and tendencies we don’t need, can't use, and ultimately wind up tripping over. We should take them back where we got them and never buy them again.


Sherry Peyton said...

Who woulda thunk you could weave Job and impulse shopping together? Either Job is more flexible than I thought, or you are near genius. I'm betting on the later. Tim you are simply amazing. Always worth reading every day.

Tim said...

Sherry, I imagine it is a bit of a stretch. ;-) But sometimes the Word has this way of sneaking up on us and speaking to us in creative ways. I opened Job in search of another text and Zophar's words leapt out at me. I'm so happy that my "dotted line" connection made sense (somehow)!

Blessings, sweet friend, and enjoy a terrific weekend!

Peace and love,

TomCat said...

Very well done Tim. I hate shopping, and I'm very much like your friend in that regard. Poverty taught me discipline. However, in my younger days, I was impulsive with romantic relationships. I think I have learned discipline with that, as well and have been alone and unintentionally celibate since 2005. I finally decided that I would rather be alone than with someone, just because I can be. Maybe someday I'll meet a gal who is both right for me, and capable of tolerating me. It will take a miracle. ;-)

Tim said...

Thanks, Tom. When we're in the midst of hardships--whether financial, romantic/personal, even psychological--we tend to forget we're learning life lessons. Even though he's misguided and needlessly tough on Job, I think that's what Zophar might be driving at.

Imagine how much time and bother you've spared yourself by learning to avoid frivolous spending. And, though I have every confidence you would/will be a real catch for if/when a wise and caring lady comes along, think of how much heartbreak and indigestion you've escaped by not impulsively trying to hang on to the wrong partner simply to have one. (And by now you should know I'm a big believer in miracles. )

One staggers to think how many people live in homes cluttered with useless purchases and devoid of genuine love--all because they couldn't discipline themselves from thinking they should have everything they see and want. How many of us wake up every day with regret we didn't control our impulses? More than we'll ever know, I'm sure.

Thanks for chiming in. It's always a great joy to hear from you!