A few years ago I remember being in a study with someone who loved shopping, and buying and having stuff. Her love of shopping was becoming a problem in her marriage. So she was asking for help and prayer. She was saying that part of the problem of not shopping was not being able to spend time with a certain friend who often went with her. I remember someone asking her if this friend always bought things when they went and she said the friend rarely bought anything, she was happy to just look. So I remember saying that maybe it was worth pursuing just inviting the friend over for tea, or to go for a walk, or something that did not involve shopping. She was adamant that this was a shopping friend and that the other suggestions were inadequate. The truth is she did not want to stop spending money and accumulating things. She wanted to believe that it was the friend keeping her from stopping but it was her.
A few weeks later I remember being very uncomfortable when invited to go on a shopping excursion to Stoke-on-Trent, the pottery mecca (think Wedgewood, Spode, Portmeireon all at 80% off the prices in the US), because this person was going. I wondered what it said to go along when I knew this was a difficult area for her. In the end, I did go because she was not the person who invited me and because I actually needed a couple of things. But all day long it needled at me as I witnessed her spending more and more on things that she even admitted on that day she did not need.
Does it matter how we behave around our friends in the matters of material belongings? I believe that it does.
Paul cautions us,
“Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the ‘burden’ of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others---of those who feel these things are wrong.”
My shopping may not be an issue for me, but if shopping is an issue for someone else, do I have any right to participate in the activity in front of them or with them? According to this passage, the answer has to be “NO.” I need to find things to do with them that do not tempt them to step outside the boundaries that God is laying for them. But that is not easy to do. Even in the case above, where the friend had admitted needing help in the area, I found it impossible to say, “Maybe we should do something else.” I was afraid of offending. But that would be the response of a true friend.
It is even more difficult if the person who apparently has an issue with materialism has not invited me into the problem. Then it just appears that I am judging, not helping. So what am I to do? Is it enough to simply avoid the situation? Will there not always be someone else willing to go shopping with them? Then, what? Pray for them? Absolutely, I believe that is the first step. But should I speak up? I don’t know. I welcome your ideas.
In my heart of hearts, I want friends who care enough about me to tell me when I’m falling into a pattern of behavior that is going to hurt me. But that implies close friend. Do I want casual friends doing that? On the surface, not really. But, ultimately if God has led the person to speak, I hope they will be faithful to speak. And I pray that God would also give me a heart to listen. So in that respect, if I feel that God is leading me to say something I would pray that the person would be in a place to hear it. It sounds good on paper, but it is so difficult in reality. What do you think?
Tomorrow: Generous to a Fault?