At lunchtime on my first day of secondary school, I went to Woolworths (remember Woolworths?) and bought a cheap plastic Pluto dog. I instinctively knew that I wanted the Disney character not so much for himself, but as a symbol of childhood security that I felt was forever slipping away.
I remembered this while reflecting on a powerful phrase from writer Sophronia Scott: “Any consumer purchase requires something from the head and the heart, not just my wallet, and requires spiritual consideration.” It is a call to self-awareness as we walk the aisles of the supermarket or browse the shopping website.
Shopping presents many challenges. Seeking God’s grace to turn cart rage into grace as slow shoppers get in my way. Recognize ethical issues – “How well was the person who did this paid?”, “How many airline miles did this lawyer fly?” Stopping to think about how lucky I am to have money for food; how unfair it is that so many people struggle to cover daily expenses.
And don’t get me started on that word “consumer”! We are not “consumers,” cogs in an economic system made up of workers, consumers, and those who get richer in the process. We are people, we look to the gifts, skills and creativity of others, and ultimately to God for our needs. Go wild!
But Sophronia Scott pushes us to go a little further. Buying Pluto at Woolworths, I put in my satchel a talisman of hope as I walked back through the daunting school building. When contemplating a purchase, we ask, “Why do I want this?” By reflecting, we can realize that we expect the product to give us a sense of identity, to make us other than what we are, to nourish an addiction, to be part of a group, that it numbs us from pain, that it fills a gaping black hole of inner emptiness.
But shopping is an ineffective substitute for the only thing that will satisfy our hearts: knowing that we are precious, that we are well, that we are loved. Above all, that knowledge without which it is impossible to experience the love of others – the knowledge that we are lovable.
Like that 12-year-old, I still find myself considering curing insecurity with another purchase, even though I know it will be ineffective. But then I remember that I am secure in the love of others and ultimately in the love of God.
And that knowledge sets me free to enjoy God’s goodness and love, God’s provision, God’s economy of grace. “Come and buy wine and milk without money and without charge.”
And again, I see these exhausted shoppers with big carts as people, not as consumers; as the beloved of God.
More from John Dempster’s Christian perspective