woman outside
Cultivate Community

Reassessing Consumerism As We Emerge From The Pandemic

A chance to live more intentionally
by Faith+Lead | April 13, 2021

By Becca Ehrlich

I have been wearing the same dress for just about 100 days. And I intend to do so until 100 days are up.

By “same dress,” I don’t mean multiples of the same dress that rotate daily. By “100 days,” I don’t mean a few days here and there, equaling 100 days when added together. I’m literally wearing the same dress, every day, for at least eight hours a day, for 100 days in a row. 

Whenever I’ve explained the 100 Day Dress Challenge to people, the first response is usually an incredulous, Why?

In a consumer society in which more is always better, it’s shocking to hear of someone voluntarily choosing to wear the same exact clothing piece every day. It flies in the face of everything we have been taught to value. In our consumer culture, having more material possessions typically equals a higher socio-economic status. We are told that the accumulation of wealth, possessions, prestigious job title, and worldly success are all things we should be striving for in life. And we have internalized consumer culture’s values as our own.

“Winning” at Life

When I was growing up, we played board games a lot. And one of the games we used to play was a classic, The Game of Life.

The Game of Life basically tries to mimic real life, in a board game format. You start with a game piece that’s a car, and some money, and you make your way around the board. The goal of the game is—you guessed it—to make the most money. So every decision you make is geared towards winning, by accumulating cash and “winning” at Life.

During the game, you get to choose whether to go to university or not—which is a longer path, but you get paid more later. You want to become a professional—doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. because you’ll make more money. You get paid throughout the game. Other players try to take your money, and you try to take their money.

You want to get married in the game, because then you get—you guessed it—wedding presents and cash. And then you want to have as many kids as possible, because you get more presents! Maybe that part of the game doesn’t mimic real life that well—we all know having kids means spending money too! But in the game, that doesn’t matter. Having more kids equals cash.

Landing on different spaces means that “life” things happen. And the last square of the game that you want to get to is: “MILLIONAIRE! Retire in style.”

So that’s your main goal according to The Game of Life: become a millionaire and retire in style. If someone doesn’t end up becoming a millionaire tycoon at the end, the winner is the one who goes bankrupt last. So it’s still the one who has the most money in the end who wins.

It’s a fun game. But if you think about it a bit, you realize that this game is incredibly skewed and perpetuates everything consumer culture stands for. It’s teaching kids what they need to do to “win” at life. If they want to be winners at life, they have to amass a fortune (often at the expense of others), get married, and have a passel of kids (not because they want to, but because they get more money that way)— and they do all of this so that they can retire in style. That, according to The Game of Life, is the goal of life.

There is no death in this Game of Life. It ends at retirement or bankruptcy. But appropriately, once the game ends—regardless of who wins—where does all the money go? 

Back in the box. 

So although the game teaches us to make a ton of money, it is very clear that at the end of life the money is gone. As some like to say– you can’t take it with you.

And sadly, we ourselves tend to do the same thing—focus on those things that do not last. We tend to take what consumer culture teaches us as Gospel. But Jesus’ Gospel carries a very different message.

Focusing on What Lasts

In the Bible passage John 6:25-27, we see that people 2,000 years ago tended to focus on things that didn’t last as well. After Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with just five small barley loaves and two fish, he and the disciples travel across the lake. The people who were just fed during the miracle follow them. 

But Jesus knows the reason why the people followed him. It’s not because they want to hear more about God; they want another free lunch. Jesus tells them in verses 26-27: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Jesus knows that these people are focused on things that don’t last—rather than focusing on the food that lasts forever, that the Son of Man, or Jesus, will give them. They are looking in the wrong places, for the wrong things, to satisfy their deep hunger for what only Jesus can give them.

We know what that’s like. We also look in the wrong places and for the wrong things to satisfy our hunger. We saw in The Game of Life the pursuit of money, but people also pursue alcohol, success, obsessions with anything and everything—sports teams, TV shows, celebrities. The things listed are fine in moderation—you don’t have to give up your favorite sports teams or TV shows. But it’s when these things are used to fill that spiritual void in our lives that it becomes a problem. 

Here’s why this matters so much: when we become so focused on these things that don’t last, we can derive our life’s purpose and meaning from them. They become why we live, why we are here. Our hunger becomes misplaced, and we are living for the food that perishes.

Simplifying During and After the Pandemic

During the COVID-10 pandemic, we have had to simplify in many ways. Unable to do many of the things we are used to doing, our lives got much simpler—for better or for worse. Many have become unemployed or underemployed, and financial struggles are prevalent. 

We have been forced to recognize that consumer culture has been selling us lies. Accumulation is not the purpose of life. Loving and serving God and others—that is what we were made for. That is what God created us to do.

This was the main reason I chose to wear the same dress for 100 days. I am not what I wear. Rather than focusing so much on what I put on my body and the accumulation of stuff, I am freed to focus on the things that actually matter.

When we emerge into life after the pandemic, we have a unique choice. Do we go back to the lifestyle and worldview we had before, in which we continue to accumulate and keep consumer society values, living life on automatic pilot again? Or, do we do what Jesus invites us to do—live a life that is instead focused on what lasts?

How is God calling you to focus on what matters most?

If you are feeling God’s pull to live more intentionally, here are some practical ways to do so:

  • Pray. Ask God how you can focus more on the things that last, rather than the things that perish.
  • Before buying something for your congregation, ask yourself: “Are we buying this because we truly need it and it adds value to our life? Or because we are simply following our previous consumption habits?
  • Question your own definition and your congregation’s definition of success. How is God calling you and your congregation to be God’s light to others, instead of subconsciously chasing what consumer culture tells us is success?
  • Constantly remind yourself that you are not your job title, salary, or material possessions. Your congregation is not your building, your attendance numbers, or your incoming cash. You are a beloved child of God. That is who you are. 
  • Connect with loved ones safely (video chat, phone call, email, outside while masked and social-distanced, etc.) Focusing on relationships can help focus less on consumer society values.
  • Incorporate a spiritual practice (praying once a day, reading the Bible regularly, etc.) into your regular schedule. 

Jesus is inviting us to focus on what lasts. We can take what we learned during the pandemic and, rather than going back to how we lived previously, focus on what is most important.

About the Author
Becca Ehrlich is an ELCA pastor serving as Interim Director for Evangelical Mission/Assistant to the Bishop in Allegheny and Upstate N.Y. Synods, ELCA. She blogs about minimalism from a Christian perspective at www.christianminimalism.com. Her book, Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living, comes out May 17.

Upcoming Learning Experiences

Don't Miss an Insight

Get The Faith+Leader delivered directly to your inbox.

Unsubscribe anytime. We'll never rent or share your information.