The empty promises of uncontrolled spending

Originally printed as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

You may be unaware of the radical economic shift that's been taking place in society over the last half-century, even though to some extent you might be participating in it. It's a shift from saving to spending, which reached a milestone just recently. US News & World Report says that late last year, for the first time in the US, total household debt exceeded 100 percent of disposable income. This came at a time when personal savings fell to the lowest monthly level in history. Bottom line: A lot of people are in over their heads.

Record spending is not just a middle-class problem, either, says Dr. Tahira Hira, professor of personal finance and consumer economics at Iowa State University. In a recent conversation with the Christian Science Sentinel - Radio Edition, she said that people from all parts of the economic spectrum are struggling with controlling the impulse to spend more than they can afford on items and services they don't really need.

Why do many find it difficult to resist the impulse to buy unnecessarily? There are plenty of reasons, according to the economic experts, social researchers, and financial counselors. Some say it's the aggressive marketplace, bombarding us with the promise of a better life or a better self-image in exchange for a quick swipe of the credit card through the electronic payment device. Some point the finger of blame at a widespread lack of self-discipline. Still others argue that, when we feel empty or unfulfilled, we often jump to the conclusion that a trip to the mall will fix everything.

The issue is complex. But that's not to say that we don't have everything needed for solutions. A good place to begin is with a question: Are we letting the draw of materialism outweigh the draw of spirituality in our daily lives? It's the kind of honest self-examination that brings a fresh perspective.

The promise of materialism to make us happy and complete can be at the root of the impulse to buy, buy, buy. The trouble is, it's a promise that material things simply can't keep. Many shoppers admit that, after they make unnecessary purchases, they have feelings of letdown or emptiness. Hardly the "heavenly experience" they might have hoped their purchase would be.

But that's not to say that a taste of heaven isn't attainable at the mall - or anywhere else, for that matter. And actually, when it comes to controlling the urge to spend, the concept of heaven being within us, within your thought and mine - which is a cornerstone of Jesus' teachings - is a powerful help for anyone thinking that happiness is just a purchase away. Heaven would certainly include happiness, contentment, wholeness, well-being, peace.

To think of heaven (and these qualities) as a state of consciousness - a concept introduced by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" - takes our focus off buying as the means for finding happiness and fulfillment. Our thought is freer to be drawn to God, the divine Mind, as the source of this good we've been looking for - the good that's already within us, whether we're standing in line at a cash register or sitting at home reading a book. This spiritual desire for good is a kind of prayer, and with this prayer we're not likely to be drawn to the promise of materialism, drawn to the point where we can't resist buying what we don't really need.

Without a doubt, the marketplace delivers an array of choices: products, services, technology - many things designed to meet our needs. But uncontrolled spending, as tantalizing as it may be, isn't the substitute for happiness it promises to be. Spiritual desire, on the other hand, never results in a letdown. It enables us to take full advantage of the good that's already ours. That's God's promise. And it's kept.

... lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:20, 21

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