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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Retail Therapy?

By Christina Quick
April 15, 2012

A recent Teen Vogue featured an article on “retail therapy,” suggesting spending as a way to feel better. A blog post by the same publication gushed that “the beautiful clothes on the beautiful models” at a fashion event should be “enough to make people reach for their wallets and shop.”

Such messages are nothing new, but in a media-saturated world they’re becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. In addition to the more traditional media of magazines, television commercials and billboards, commercialism permeates everything from blogs and social media sites to video games and motion pictures.

“Consumerism and materialism bombard student culture every day,” says Steve Pulis, national director of student outreach and Youth Alive for the Assemblies of God. “The consistent and powerful pull of the media-driven allure for stuff is inescapable. It is aimed squarely at ensnaring a new generation.”

According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), teens in the United States spend $159 billion each year on consumer products. Kids under 12 influence another $500 billion in annual household purchasing decisions. It’s easy to see why businesses seek to hook consumers early.

“Just about all media are designed to sell kids and teenagers on something,” says Josh Goslin, CCFC associate director. “The No. 1 thing marketing is trying to sell us on is the idea that products will make us happy or cool.”

For families struggling financially in a downturned economy, the pressure to spend can add to the tension and strain.

“Material things are becoming harder and harder to come by,” says Josh Wellborn, youth pastor at Mount Hope Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Lansing, Mich. “It’s normal in this city to drive by foreclosed homes and closed-down factories every day. Every teen in our youth group has been affected by the economy in some way. Fewer teens have cars now. They don’t go out to eat as much. It’s harder for them to get jobs. They can’t afford to buy as many things at the mall.”

Yet, Wellborn says spiritual growth has accompanied financial decline.

“It’s become normal to hear tales of despair, but it’s also normal to hear praise reports of miracles and provision,” Wellborn says. “As material things are taken away, we’re forced to examine our nontangibles — our relationships with God and one another. Students are talking about hearing from the Lord. Through difficulties, they are learning to trust Jesus.”

Sarah Berg, who attends the Mount Hope Church youth group, was 15 when her mom lost her nursing job last year. The family had to scale back to make ends meet on unemployment and disability income. (Berg’s dad suffers from multiple sclerosis.)

“I didn’t really care about material things anymore,” Berg says. “All I wanted was for my family to be happy. Things like birthday and Christmas presents seemed like more of an annoyance to me because I knew my mom would spend money she didn’t have. I began to not care if I needed new clothes because I knew I couldn’t ask for them.”

Yet, Berg says God provided for her in unexpected ways. When she needed a laptop for school, someone in the church anonymously gave her one. Others offered her rides and took her out to eat, a luxury her family couldn’t afford.

Berg’s mom now has a new job, which has relieved stress on the family, but Berg says the tough times made a lasting impact on her values.

“Some of today’s teens, especially ones who aren’t saved, are very materialistic,” Berg says. “I hear more about name brands, and if you can’t afford them, you’re not cool enough. We need to remember that all material things will fall away. It’s who you are on the inside and who you follow with your heart that matters.”

Jovanna Pratt, 17, says she used to struggle with wanting the material things she saw in magazines and movies. As a young child, she moved from Grass Valley, Calif., to North Pole, Alaska, with her Assemblies of God missionary parents, Ron and Yolanda Pratt.

“I always told my parents, ‘I just want to be a normal kid,’” Pratt says. “I wanted all the stuff other teenagers had. I didn’t even have my own bedroom growing up. We always shared our home with other people. What little we had, my parents gave away.”

Over the years, Pratt grew to appreciate the value of placing God and others above material things.

“Now I realize how blessed I am,” Pratt says. “When we go back to California, it’s a huge culture shock. I see a generation being led by the media and the pursuit of material things. I was almost sucked into that. Now I just want to call this generation to rise above the things of the world. It’s easy to get lost in what other people say you should be. Instead, we need to get lost in God.”

Wellborn says retail therapy is a hollow promise that yields little more than discontent and debt.

“There’s no satisfaction that comes from material things,” he says. “It’s a temporary fix. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to give life to the full. The deepest craving we have in life can only be satisfied in Christ. Everything else is just a fading romance that leaves us empty and heartbroken — and strangely craving more.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer.

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