We all have things that we like to indulge in. For some it may be books. For some it may be shoes. For some it may be tools. It could be anything, really. These are not trinkets or collectibles that we attempt to keep for lasting value – or to hand down to future generations. No, these are the things that our personal preferences and interests lead us to purchase over and over and over again.
When we come across a new or untried item of our indulgence, we tell ourselves that we ‘must have it.' This, of course, is a lie, but it sounds nice. We gobble up the item without a thought, telling ourselves that our current array of similar objects would not be complete without this new addition. We grasp for these things on instinct. If we do happen to think about whether or not we ‘need’ the item, we often justify the purchase under the rhetoric of it being the ‘newest’, or being ‘on sale’. Sometimes we say that we ‘deserve’ our indulgence.
Having interests are never bad, nor is wanting to have products and items that relate to said interests. If books, for example, bring you pleasure, then you should buy books. It is not wrong or sinful to own such things.
That being said, we get into a dangerous place when our indulgences begin to take over our lives. When we begin to amass these things, without a thought about the amount of money we are spending, or the amount of use we will get from it, we are allowing material things to have control over us. We are buying into that toxic slogan that says we will never be satisfied until we have ‘more.’
The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, advises that ‘those who buy something’ should live as if ‘it was not theirs to keep; and those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. (1st Cor. 7:30-31). Paul’s point isn't about not using or owning the things of the world. Rather, his point is about making sure that our relationship with the material side of our lives is always subject to the demands of our faith. When we become engrossed in what we purchase, or the need to purchase the newest trinket or toy, then our focus is ever so subtlety being drawn away from Christ. It is as if our life is being lived for the amassing of our indulgence.
So how do we deal with our indulgences in a Christ-like, and Christ-honouring, way? One of the easiest ways is to develop a ‘rule’ of how we will approach these things. For example, one of my personal indulgences is action movies. I find watching these types of movies a nice, mindless, source of entertainment, particularly when I feel the need to unwind or relax. Because of this, I have collected a large number of DVD’s that sit on the shelf in my basement. It is easy for me to find a movie that I do not own, spend the appropriate money, and take it home with me.
But here’s the thing, I have several movies on my shelf that are still in the wrapper! I have never watched them – nor have I seen fit to unwrap them from their casing. They have simply sat on my shelf for months. Furthermore, as time goes on, I end up adding more and more unwrapped, unwatched, movies to my collection. This is what it means to be owned by our possessions – to be engrossed in them, to use Paul’s term.
I’m not alone in this. I know others who live out the same reality with books, or shoes, or the latest tool. The particularity of the indulgence doesn't really matter, we all live out the same reality. Yet developing a rule for how we relate to our indulgence stops the cycle from continuing to occur. My rule is that I will not buy another movie until I have watched all the ‘unwrapped’ movies on my shelf. This rule stops me from mindless purchases, and it causes me to examine my motives for picking up a new indulgence whenever I feel the urge rise within me.
A Rule for our excesses is not there to limit or restrict us. Far from it! It actually leads us into deeper grace. When we step away from our filling the latest craving of our indulgence, we are free to uncover the true satisfaction that comes from the Presence of Christ. We consciously avoid being engrossed in the things of the world in order to more fully live in the Kingdom of God. And the joy that is produced in exercising our single-hearted focus in such a manner far outweighs any temporary pleasures we may have received by being engrossed by the newest indulgence.