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Salma Gundi's picture

Vanity of Vanities

        A sixty-two-year-old man went to the ER. Doctors found a large mass pushing his stomach down between his hips. They removed the twelve-pound mass. It was not a tumor.  The man had swallowed $650 worth of coins. He had a psychiatric condition called pica in which a person eats inanimate objects. 

        Are you a glutton for possessions?  

        I did a recent closet inventory to prove I don’t hoard. Purses: twenty-nine; earrings: sixty pair; shoes: fifty-two pair. I see shopping as a boring, time-sucking inconvenience. So why do I have so much stuff?          

        In the late 80’s a new anti-depressant drug emerged, and later the name Prozac entered American culture. The creators originally intended Prozac for chemical imbalance. But for some it turned into the miracle “cure” when success and money failed to bring happiness.

         In Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 King Solomon addresses the greedy rich. As the ruler of a wealthy nation, Solomon had no fear of missing out. He built an enormous estate and had 700 wives. He threw grand lavish parties serving Dom Perignon and Sevruga caviar. He wore Gucci suits and a diamond-studded gilded Rolex. Having perhaps more money and sex than anyone on earth, Solomon made Donald Trump look like The Apprentice.

         In a quest for wisdom, Solomon determined to learn whether wealth and pleasure bring true satisfaction. His discovery? There is nothing new under the sun. Life proves boring and predictable. Everything is meaningless—all vanity—a chasing after the wind.

        Solomon attests the more we have the more we want. He related the love of money with dissatisfaction; desire will always outrun our possessions. Solomon says just like all the other things he chased after under the sun, riches, too, are meaningless. Work produces nothing of lasting value, and greed hinders the enjoyment of wealth.

        Solomon adds that the more we have the more we spend. The bigger the house the more housekeepers, more locks, and more hassles. And who benefits? Who used, ate, and drank from Solomon’s riches? The officials and servants who did not earn it. As the saying goes, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.”  That includes hair. For the unfamiliar, Big Texas Hair is akin to a lion’s mane—sprayed up and out—stiff enough to stop a bullet…evidence that bigger does not equal better.   

         Finally, the more we have the more we worry. Between the fear of losing everything, obsessing over wealth maintenance, and maybe some indigestion from Filet Oscar over Boursin Mashed Potatoes, no wonder sleep declines. At fifty-three, John D. Rockefeller, the world’s only billionaire, suffered from sickness and insomnia, subsisting on mostly crackers and milk. When he started donating his money, his health improved dramatically and he lived to the age of ninety-eight.

         I’ve enjoyed a lucrative professional career for over two decades. Do I feel satisfied? Not always. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. Having more of what I thought would satisfy me has not satisfied me. And why would it? King Solomon felt dissatisfied with his abundant wealth. Fifty-two pair of shoes and twenty-nine purses do not spell success. They spell first-world sickness.  

        No condemnation intended here. If God has blessed you with wealth, no need to feel bad. He wants us to enjoy his gifts without feeling guilty. But we must love him more than we love his gifts. Even so, someday everything we own will decay to rubbish—our clothes, our cars, even our homes. So building self-worth on stuff rather than on God will leave us disappointed. Take it from Solomon, Rockefeller, or the Hollywood celebrity. Stuff will never be enough. We can work sixty-hour weeks, and live in opulent homes that we have no time to enjoy. But as Pastor Matt Chandler puts it, we will eventually be “painted up like a clown, put in a box, and buried.”

         Regarding my recent closet inventory, a friend asked, “Why did you buy all that stuff?” Tough question. Because unlike those of closets, heart inventories are complicated. I guess I wanted to beautify my outside because it makes me feel beautiful inside. I know. Bad philosophy. But sometimes when I look in the mirror I still see the shy little brown geek with glasses and frizzy hair that other kids teased and teased to no end. The reason I bought all that stuff? I wanted to feel good enough…included…meaningful. Because no one would dare mistreat a woman with a Kate Spade handbag.   

       What meaning do you attach to possessions? Security? Comfort? Bragging rights? Some of us buy stuff to prove that our lives aren’t meaningless. But Solomon acknowledges that God gives us meaning in a meaningless world. For the greedy, increased wealth only increases anxiety, not enjoyment. More stuff means more headaches. As Andrew Carnegie put it, “Millionaires seldom smile.”     

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