"American Dream" part I

idiom: 1. the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American  2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals of the U.S.

In 1931, James Trulow coined the definition of “The American Dream.” He stated that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability and achievement.” Compare that definition to definition #2 given by Dictionary.com (see above), we have a serious discrepancy.  However, when you ask most people today what the American Dream is, their answers will coincide not with Trulow, but with definition #2. In fact, the family board game Life declares the winner as “the one who retires with the most financial worth.”

Really, this is what life is all about? If my life doesn’t produce financial success, then I’m not a winner? Obviously over the past few years while I have pursued the call of missions, I had to come face to face with not pursuing the American dream even in its most “Christian” of forms. What have I discovered? That serving God is equal to losing grip to the realities of this world so we can live in the reality of His Word.

Romans 12:1 says, “Don’t copy the customs and behaviors of this world; but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” This verse reminds us to focus on two things we shouldn’t copy: the customs and behaviors of this world.

If we could describe our society’s  behavior in two words, what might they be? Oh there are numerous words that come to mind quickly, but most of them focus back on one thing: selfishness. Americans seek possessions and then once they have them fight madly to hold on to each of them.

MSN money reports that there are over 17 million Americans who are shopaholics (that’s 1 in every 20). Shopaholics are defined as “one who cannot control the urge to spend.” More interestingly,  this materialism is smiled upon. How many of us have ever invested in a little “retail therapy?” Charged up our credit cards for Christmas? Or any other special occasion? We women will shop to cure depression, poor self-image, and even jealousy.

But why do we spend and shop as if everything we purchase is a necessity and not a want? Mary Lincoln Todd (wife of President Lincoln) was obsessed with gloves; she owned 87 pair. Imelda Marcos (wife of Filipeno president) was crazy about shoes – she owned hundreds. Even Princess Diana and Jackie O’Nassis, both ladies of elegance and refined grace, were known to be shopaholics! This list is interesting, considering each of these women had power, education, and good social standing. Yet, something was missing, and obviously, they tried to fill it with possessions.

They wanted value, but couldn’t find it in their social standing or their educations (or in shoes or gloves). We point our fingers and say how sad, but the same can be said of us. Why do we need a bigger house? Or shiny, new furniture? Or another cute outfit? Our twelve place settings of fine China? Are those things necessarily bad for us?  No, but the reason we buy them can be our downfall.

The reason we do anything — especially when it comes to spending money — should have more to do with love for God than it does with love for ourselves. Only He can satisfy those longings of purpose and value, and His value lasts much longer than that cute new outfit or comfy couch.


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