In the heart of all humans lives the desire to be fully, truly free.
I well remember standing in my packed closet, staring at all my clothes, feeling like my shopping addiction owned me. It is a humbling feeling to be a Bible teacher with harmful secret habits, no matter how harmless to someone else it might seem.
The irony of so many seemingly harmless things we call guilty pleasures, vices or even, favorite pastimes/hobbies, is how they wind up not being the friend they’ve claimed to be: offering comfort, they’ve thrown us in silent shackles. Far too often we are enslaved by freedoms we have chosen for ourselves, which on the surface sounds ludicrous that anyone would willingness choose confinement. But that’s exactly what we do when we choose things that our freedom allows but at the end of the day don’t bring us a lifestyle that Jesus runs.
I had long been aware that my shopping was my go-to source for fun. It was a social activity for me – something to connect me with girlfriends – something to do when I had some mad money to spend. It wasn’t something that put us into debt, so it was even less of a glaring problem. Style is personal to me…an art form…an expression of my personality, and, I could even reason: an appreciation for beautiful things. Turns out, we are good at justifying what suits us.
The problem was – it was also something that became a necessary reprieve from any kind of momentary pain. A rejection email came through? Better go to Target. Didn’t like what I saw in the mirror? Let’s head over to the online sale at Nordstrom Rack. Swiping that debit card became a substitute savior I grew to lean on, love, and know as well as I knew even myself.
It is no wonder, then, that when God began to speak to me about it, I didn’t eagerly respond. Questions, unwelcome in the still of the night right before sleep, accosted me – is Jesus not enough? And that gnawing feeling of conviction that followed the high of a quick purchase I knew I didn’t need or even really want once I got out of the store. After awhile, I began to hate every shirt in my closet. It wasn’t because I actually hated the shirts. I hated how they were hindering me.
My prayer life had been suffering.
My connection with God felt stale.
Guilt had been haunting me.
The quick fix was getting less effective.
Things were getting complicated, in and out of my closet.
I wasn’t 100% sure that my shopping was coming between me and God. But there was only one way to find out. Laying something down often tells the truest tale – you learn what you have come to depend upon when you agree to (temporarily or forever) let it go. If clothes are coming between God and me, it sure would be dumb, I thought to myself. I grew to despise them. To trade vibrant relationship with the God of the universe – someone I desperately needed to help me in my life – for some more sweaters and belts and pillows for my house suddenly seemed like a horrible trade-off. I would lay down my shopping for a year and see how much more of God I could get.
I got, a lot.
And I got something else: freedom. Far more than a closet uncluttering, my life become clean and uncomplicated in a brand new way.
It’s been more than 5 years since that shopping fast, and my life has never been the same.
Please don’t misunderstand. The struggle, then and now, is real – to keep Jesus in his first-place position, which is where He has to be in order for shopping to not be where I turn, first. The struggle to keep my numbing and deflection tactics to cope with life at bay is also real – I still love beautiful clothes and things for my house. But what is also real is the help of God. Oh, it is so very real. It is so very strong, so very sure, so very powerful and so very enough.
It is also so very lasting in a way shopping never was or is.
Psalm 142:5 is a verse I often reprieve to, when other substitute saviors threaten to push their way in – and yes, there are others. My phone, social media, even relationships threaten to get my attention at times – call out to me to let them fix it, cover it, cure it, help me deal with it – even though they never fix a thing. “Then I pray to you, O Lord. I say, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.” David spoke of what he knew. He had lived the other way and it proved futile. And do we not know, too? Have we not wandered? Have we not settled? Have we not said, this will do for now? And has it not been enough in the end? You don’t have to answer that. I already know, because me, too.
Jesus is the only solution – in the long-term and in the short. We can keep turning to our non-solutions, but they will always fall short, and we will be left needing another shirt, another like or follow, another show to binge, another drink. Personally, I am weary of things that don’t work.
This side of heaven we will struggle, yes, but we do not do so without the help and promise of God: to be strong on our behalf, to draw near to us in our time of need, to be enough and more for our every pain, sorrow, stress and self-inflicted complication.
Putting Jesus over even that thing He gave us the free will to choose hands us back the abundant life we once gave up. Complete freedom.
Lisa Whittle is the author of seven books, and her wit and bold bottom-line approach have made her a sought-after Bible teacher. She is also the creator of a companion video Bible study for Jesus over Everything. A pastor’s daughter and longtime ministry leader in issues relevant to the church, Lisa is the founder of Ministry Strong and the popular Jesus over Everything podcast, which debuted in the top twenty-five of Christian podcasts. She and her husband live in North Carolina with their three mostly grown children, who still come home for dinner.