In the last post, I spoke about living in a “throwaway” world and suggested that if we are not careful, we can end up thinking that way about our marriages too. We live in a culture that is very consumer based and the consumerist mind-set runs deep. Many people build their identities around the stuff they have…or it may be more apt to say, by what has them. If I run to the store to buy some simple dish soap, I can buy the inexpensive brand that sports the name “Dish Soap” on the front of the bottle. But just looking at the label Dish Soap makes me feel flat, empty, nondescript. So for some reason, I can’t settle for that. As a consumer, what I buy defines who I am, and I have no idea who I am if I buy something labeled “Dish Soap.” I need something more.
Then I see it! Right next to the unsophisticated Dish Soap is a product called “Dawn.” My heart lights up—now we’re talking. Who wants to wash their dishes with Dish Soap when you can wash them with morning-fresh, bright sunshine? Presumably with Dawn, a person can do the dishes and dispel the darkness in life at the same time.
But just before I make my all-important decision, I look to the other side of the imagine-less, unfulfilling, chore-oriented Dish Soap. Alas, there is yet another amazing product possibility: “Joy.” Wow. Who would have thought that a person could experience joy while doing the dishes? And couldn’t all of us use just a little more joy? The Joy has it, hands-down. So what if it costs a little more, I muse. After all, aren’t I worth it?
Somehow I feel a bit more alive holding that bottle of Joy. I don’t know how, but that little vessel of pleasure makes me feel skinnier and smarter, and I’m sure my wife, Debbie, will praise me when I return home—after all, I am bringing new joy into our home! Surely she will take one look at that bottle of Joy and gleefully respond, “Joy? O what waves of glory fill my soul! You went out for mere dish soap, but you, with your keen insight, have returned not with just soap, but with Joy!”
In reality, Debbie isn’t nearly as controlled by consumerist thought as I am. She would actually say something more like, “Why didn’t you get the cheaper generic one? It does the dishes as well as anything else
Whether we realize it or not, this consumerist expectation gets attached to just about everything we get involved in, including marriage When you view marriage as a product or commodity, you are trying to make it define you in some way. You are saying, “I expect marriage to make me look better, to make me feel better, to make me happier, right now.” It ends up centering marriage on me.
The problem is, marriage is not a commodity, it is a relationship. And relationships often experience difficulty and demand sacrifice. At times a marriage may feel more like a liability than anything else. And if you believe marriage is only about making you happy, whenever there are more cons than pros, your mind will scream, “Abandon ship!” A consumerist mind-set can’t work through a troubled marriage. It isn’t governed by commitments or by values; what’s in it for me rules the day. If the what do I get out of it isn’t conspicuous, a person with this mind-set doesn’t want anything more to do with the marriage. It ceases to be important whenever it no longer “does it” for them. And they feel totally justified in cashing out.
Indeed, the commodity mindset is disastrous when applied to marriage. God never designed the institution from a consumer standpoint where we are free to leave when we aren’t getting our money’s worth. Marriage is a lifetime commitment with no return policy and no refunds.