The Danger of Luxury

Today I saw a man with two little kids sitting on the street outside a coffee shop begging. Kids were dirty and skinny, running from passerby to passerby, waving their old McDonald’s cups hoping for loose change. Just as I was really getting deep into feelings of guilt and compassion, I noticed something that I hadn’t before. The kids were happy. They skipped and played like any other kids their age. They actually seemed every bit as happy as the people inside the upscale coffee shop. Which struck me as bizarre.

Because, though I tritely say that money and possessions don’t bring happiness, there’s this subtle belief buried deep inside of my heart that believes that they are immensely influential. Shouldn’t people completely destitute of money also be completely destitute of happiness? But the (shocking) truth is: if you made some kind of chart depicting the world by its distribution of wealth, and then made one based on distribution of happiness, there would be almost no correlation (maybe even an opposite correlation!).

Maybe a generational perspective will help further reveal this disconnect. Though the most recent generation of children arguably has more than any previous generation, is there any evidence that they’re the slightest bit happier? No matter how good you’ve had it, your kids or your grandkids will wonder how in the world you survived childhood without item X. But they won’t be any more fulfilled in their lives than you were.

Why is this? Because luxury brings comfort and pleasure. And the depths of human comfort and pleasure have already been plumbed! There’s a maximum amount of these things. Your happiest moment is no brighter or more intense than that of people living thousands of years ago without electricity or indoor plumbing. So why would we be so unhappy if we were suddenly deprived of cell phones or laptops or a thousand other things unheard of a generation ago? Because ease is like a drug. And luxury explores the edges of pleasure and comfort. And once you’ve grown acclimated to certain levels, you need more extreme doses to feel any effect.

My wife and I noticed this the last time we were back in the States. Living in China, there’s certain things you just learn to do without. You actually forget about certain levels of ease and become accustomed to a different lifestyle. But it took only about a week in the States for us to feel things we hadn’t felt in a long time. Because there were things to have, we felt we had to get. My wife soon told me she felt like covetousness was pulling and grabbing at her. That’s what luxury does – it disguises itself as need.

Please see the latent danger of luxury! Today’s luxury is tomorrow’s commodity! We become acclimated to certain things, and soon we can’t live without them. I am certainly not advocating a return to the past, and I am most definitely not dismissing the need to reach out to people who are in real need. My concern lies with those of us who are tempted to believe that any real fulfillment in life will arise from the things which we possess. Any fulfillment found outside of Christ is, at best, false and, at worst, idolatry.

I know this seems like a strange post for a missions blog. But fear of the loss of ease keeps many from the Great Commission. It keeps students from giving their summers to go to the mission field. It keeps people in pews and away from the world’s need. And it keeps families struggling to meet the status quo of luxury in the mad hopes of letting their kids ‘have it better’ than they did.

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4 Comments on “The Danger of Luxury”

  1. Mark Tolson August 3, 2009 at 7:34 am #

    Great Post & so true!

  2. Betty Gardner August 3, 2009 at 9:28 am #

    Wow, how powerful and convicting!!!! So very, very true.

  3. Jennifer Armstrong August 3, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Wow did I need to hear this.. thank you for posting.

  4. Terry Shuford August 10, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Corrie ten Boom said, “Don’t hold on to anything too tightly because it hurts when God has to pry your fingers off of it.”

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