Consumed Contributor, Bec Oates shares her journey of becomming more aware of her consumption choices.
Even as I write this, I’m consumed with thoughts that muddy the waters. My thoughts are all consuming.
Consumption is my jam. I love consuming. I mean, before sitting down to pen this powerful prose I made myself a coffee… because it’s important to consume mild stimulants whilst waxing lyrical about the pitfalls of consumption.
I don’t want to talk about consumption. I need consumption. Consumption is the sedation I need, the antidote to life.
Don’t take it away.
Unless it’s kale. I don’t need to consume kale. No one needs to consume kale.
I consume far more than I need, and I’m not just talking about coffee. I have more clothes than I need, I consume more entertainment than I need, I hanker for more likes on social media than I need, I have a nicer car than I need.
I consume in search of contentment. But it’s never enough.
And so, in my great wisdom I think perhaps the answer lies in more consumption, and the noise in my head builds in a desperate race to keep ahead of reality. The pace quickens and so I have to consume more to keep up.
And in all this consuming and searching for more I have to admit, I’ve never found myself at the point of contentment.
I have a love hate relationship with the idea of contentment. I want to be content, but I don’t want to not have more.
Then I read this passage written by Paul – Philippians 4:12-13
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
And I think, this is hard! I don’t want it to be hard. I don’t want to admit that I am weak. But I do find solace in the idea that although Paul said he is able to be content whether he is living in plenty, or in want, that he can only do this through Christ who gives him strength.
I need help to find freedom from my attachment to consumption. I need help to find contentment in Christ. I need help to create a new reality.
And so, I pray a dangerous prayer asking God for peace, for contentment and for freedom from the bondage of consumption.
And he answered.
So anyway, there was that awkward moment when I was supposed to be all about Jesus and save the poor people but accidentally realised I was a bloated oppressor. Read on.
After praying a dangerous prayer asking God to help me to not be consumed with the things of this world and that I would know God’s heart and find freedom in him, I found myself walking into India’s largest red light district…
Stupid damn hole in my shoe. This was so not the outfit I had planned for my evening stroll through the largest red-light district in India. Damn it. I trudge through the mud with my friend Kerry, five steps of my stumpy legs to one of his long strides. My shoe starts to squeak. Squeak… squeak. Oh, kill me now. I might as well have brought a rubber ducky with me.
I scurry along, trying to keep up. Trying to avoid the puddles from the evening rain, trying to maintain some dignity amongst the cacophony of squeaks.
We walk down a busy street in Kolkata, dodging cars, dodging goats, dodging human waste. There are people everywhere, like really, everywhere. The traffic wails past me, horns blaring their long shrill tunes, cows wandering aimlessly (although I’m not sure cows ever wander with true intentionality, do they?), women cooking dinner in the street.
The evening heat is oppressive, sweat is now my constant companion which I’m sure is a joy to my friends and family. I smirk as I think of those stupid television advertisements for air fresheners, with a woman in white slacks smiling at her nice smelling couch. Bring it White Pants Lady, see if you can smile and spray away this filth. The filth of desperation, it lingers like a sour smell.
We happen upon a corner. There is a large group of men yelling. They are yelling in Bangla. I can’t understand them. They appear to be jostling for position, selling, as though selling vegetables in a market. Yelling and selling. Yelling and selling. But they aren’t selling vegetables.
They are selling girls.
They have come to the entrance of the red light district to increase trade for the evening. Spruiking their wares.
I push through the bustle of men with my blasted squeaky shoe and step into a laneway. It’s dark, and filthy. Human excrement lying waste, rats nesting, foul smells, deep oppressive evil lingers. The oppression descends like a dark cloud as I look around at the hundreds of people crammed into the laneway.
And naturally I think about myself… and most importantly, my face. What is the appropriate facial expression? How do I make sure, as I look at people living in this nightmare, I exude Jesus lovingness and all knowing all round super Christianess? How will I “bless” them I wonder, you know, with my face?
While I’m practicing my best face for the awkward moment when you meet someone whose poverty is slapping you in the face, I stumble upon some women. Girls really.
They are standing there. Waiting in a line. Shoulder to shoulder. Waiting… for customers. My chest clenches, I catch my breath.
There she stands, meekly presenting herself in a line with countless others, should you want to purchase her innocence.
I look her in the eye. I smile, with a touch of “sorry you are here selling your body and I am going back home to ruminate over how this experience can give meaning to my self indulgent life” kind of compassion. I think I nailed it. She smiles back.
She reaches out her hand to hold mine. And there he was.
My breath leaves me.
She rubs my hand. I smile again and move on.
It’s dark. Not just because it’s night. It’s truly dark. The oppressiveness deepens as we walk further into the laneway. The heaviness weighs upon me, my spirit is alert, my heart is torn, my senses overwhelmed. I trudge along in stunned silence. Seemingly even my shoe is silenced.
The line continues. The line of girls. God’s precious daughters. The line winds itself around a labyrinth of grimy laneways. Girls for sale. Grey buildings, thick with decades of grime and mold holding layers of untold stories. There they stand, colourful, beautiful, despite the gripping poverty and wretched evil that holds them captive.
I walk up a staircase, customers coming and going, small rooms with a dirt floor and a dirty mattress. Transactional rooms. Rooms that bare the soul of countless girls who have lost themselves there. Barren. No light, we scramble to the top of the stairs, to a room no larger than my linen cupboard. She welcomes me in. She makes tea.
I take off my squeaky shoes. I lay them down. I sit on the concrete floor. It begins to rain. Hot steamy rain. I don’t care.
I welcome the rain; I hope it will wash away the thick layer of filth on me. Not the filth from this place, but the filth of my own sin, my own complacency, my own complicity.
I sit with a gaping hole in my chest, with a deep knowing in my gut that Jesus is here. We pray together, that God’s Holy Spirit might rage through this darkness and that he might pour down freedom like rain on his beautiful girls.
She looks at me and asks, “You say you follow Jesus?”
“You say he loves me, and he loves the thousands of girls that are trapped here in this place? That he loves people who are vulnerable, that he loves people who are living in poverty?”
“You say Jesus is here?”
“Well then where are his people?” She challenges. “You say many people follow Jesus, and that he is here, but where are they? Where are his people?”
Silence descends between us. The silence of my grief, the silence of my inaction.
I wash my face. I realise I am dirty. I am the filthy one. I am the oppressor who justifies myself. I am the one who is so consumed with myself that I’ve failed to see her, failed to know her. I am the one who is not willing to have less so that she might have more. I am the one who is not willing to lay down my material possessions for her, let alone my life for her.
My heart condemns me.
1 John 3: 16 – 24
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
Soft closing drawers
I still fart in India.
You know, in case you thought going to India meant I was the pure and holy type whose farts rise straight to the heavens like an offering of incense to God.
All bodily functions remain intact… in fact, enhanced.
I was quite happily bundled up in my life of consumption until God rudely interrupted me. I thought I had taken my brush with poverty quite well. I’d rationalised my childish thoughts about “what would Jesus do” and all those annoying passages in the bible about the poor and decided that having a mortgage was what following Jesus was all about. I was #blessed I guess.
It’s so terribly unoriginal of me to go to India really, and oh how I hate to be unoriginal. Let’s say a reckless prayer, sell all our possessions and take our four kids and go to India. Classic move. But there you have it. I turned 40, and all hell broke loose.
It all started because of my Sunday depression. Every Sunday afternoon after a larger than necessary lunch and a Nana nap I would feel restless, irritable, discontent. For those couple of unscheduled hours my brain would enter the territory of the Whotif. Surely you know it, like a Dr. Zuess character. I become consumed with thoughts about Whotif.
Whotif I was tall blonde and skinny and lived in Europe? Whotif I bought a house that far outweighs my needs in the burbs, and wore an apron and cooked muffins every second Tuesday? Whotif I had started dancing when I was 4, I could have been a prima ballerina!! OH MY GOD I’ve wasted my life, and now I can’t be a prima ballerina!!
Its hellish territory. My husband wisely finds himself intensely interested in the garden during these interludes, he knows Whotif territory rarely escapes the areas of the house where coma inducing food stores can be found.
Now God might be Big. But I wasn’t sure he was bigger than the Whotif. In fact, God was seeming a bit dull to be honest, he had lost his happy pants. He had me working. Like, in a job. He also had me doing household chores like washing laundry, cooking meals, doing dishes. Had he lost his marbles? Didn’t he know who I was? How spectacular I was with my Whotif potential?
He clearly needed some guidance, which I was kind enough to give him. So many ideas I lay before him during my weekly supplication. And nada. Nothing. No direction, no master plans for greatness. Just good old fashioned living. How dull.
Clearly, I needed to spice things up. And so began my obsession with …. the house. The dream home. That’s what you do when you are heading towards your forties, you build the second home. The home where you will raise 4 beautiful smiling children, swim in the pool (with new body that comes with said new house), bake muffins, greet husband who returns from work loosening his tie, wear reading glasses and turtle necks in the study full of books at my minimalist desk, and greet guests with a slightly embarrassed “oh nonsense my house isn’t that great, what?, this old thing?” smile at my pivot swinging front door. Praise Jesus!
And so it began. The house building years.
I stole one of my kids scrap books from their school bag and started to finally use those cut and pasting skills Mrs. Nuski taught me in year one. It was a work of art. Pages and pages filled with clever pictures of my desires, wants, and needs. I say needs. Comments expertly jotted using black fine liner because blue pen is so not the right pen for your house bible.
I searched high and low for an architect with the appropriately thick and round spectacles that said I spend a lot of time looking at small details, but I can totally turn your Hamptons style dream home into a reality on your block of sand for shizzle.
And so, I laid down my house bible at his brogue covered feet and walked backwards out of his office in reverence and awe.
And then it started. Like a bowel obstruction. A gripey feeling deep in your gut that won’t go away. My husband and I both had it. Was it the prawns we ate? Did we accidentally swallow some knives without noticing? Or, heaven forbid, was this God?
Peace. We just had no peace about the building of our far more than we required dream home. We tried everything to get peace. We stuck our fingers in our ears and yelled lalalalalala, we sped up our already speedy pace of life to a formula one style of living with intention baby! And as a last resort we even offered to start a bible study group in the lounge of our new house (the formal front of the house lounge with a fire place, not the middle of the house lounge near the eating area with the 8 foot feature stone wall, or the children’s lounge, or the outside entertaining area). But God didn’t listen. We just had no peace. And so, we did what all good children do when their Father says no. We carried on regardless figuring God clearly had this one wrong.
I continued the preparations for my house, a bit like the kids building a sand castle even though the tide is coming in, ignoring the aforementioned bowel obstruction type gripe that had started to take hold of us during our house building frenzy.
Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t go away, in fact it all came to a horrifying peak in an untimely fashion at my architect’s office during my kitchen to make my friends weep with jealousy but in a humble “it’s just a kitchen” design discussion.
We were discussing the finer points of my place of food worship, discussing the cabinetry to be exact. Decisions needed to be made, and thanks to my hours of internet research, I was just the woman to make them. How many draws verses cupboards will I need, what were the dimensions of my 2 ovens, and exactly how much did I want to bend my back when pulling out my award winning roast, do I want to wash my dishes with a view of the outdoor area? or the living area?, critical stuff.
And then my life changed.
He asked a question, well it was more like a statement really because naturally my answer would be yes. He sat back in his chair, my bespeckled architect and almost as an afterthought he mentioned “You will, of course, have soft closing drawers?”
And then it happened.
Like the movement of enormous pent up constipation, the foundations of my life fell away before me and I realised my life was disgusting, an offence to God and to my brothers and sisters.
Because I am so consumed with comfort that I require a mechanism in the back of my drawers to ensure that they don’t bang when I shut them. Because if my drawers were to bang, that would make my life uncomfortable.
And in India, there is a woman, who is so desperately poor that she is selling her own daughter into a lifetime of abuse. Daily, hourly, unthinkable abuse.
I sat there, in the architect’s office, and I knew.
There would be no house.
Because my answer was no. No, I do not want soft closing drawers.
The Good Life.
I hate putting my bathers on.
But anyway. I do. Occasionally. Put them on. And swim.
Public pools are weird. Like a big bath we all jump in and frolic around in the water, and because we know that we are all dirty, germy and prone to defecating in the water we make sure it is full of heart stoppingly strong chemicals. We don our bathers (swimsuits, trunks, swimmers, costumes, the things you wear when swimming because you can’t wear jeans in the pool), we make sure not to make eye contact with anyone, and we enjoy the buoyancy of chemically treated water. Bliss.
Sometimes God interrupts my life at weird moments.
Like the time I was at the pool, in the water, teaching my daughter to swim. Man, she is so cute with her swimming goggles on, but anyway, she was sitting on the edge of the pool, and I was waist high in the water. We were at the kiddy end, so waist high was as deep as it gets. (note to self: no backward press, twist somersault dives today).
My goggled cutie was perched gingerly on the edge of the pool, and I was standing not more than an arm’s length away. “Jump!”, “Jump to Mummy” I said in my overly high-pitched enthusiastic voice.
When I say Jump, I mean take the extremely safe and small leap into my arms, I am right here, you can trust me.
I look at her with my pleading eyes, excited for her to see how she can trust me, and how enjoyable the water is.
Death stare. As only a 3 year old can. Eyelids half closed, head tilted, suspicion seeping from the curve of her lips. *shakes head*
“Jump, you can do it!”
Silence. Stubbornness, defiance, mistrust, fear. Clinging to the edge, to safety, to the cold hard reliability of the known.
Tears. She wants to swim, but she can’t let go. Tears. She grips the edge; she can’t let go. Tears. She can’t trust what she can’t see.
“That’s you and me” he whispers.
I died for you, don’t you think I will catch you? Don’t you want to be in my arms, in the freedom of the water?
“That’s you and me”
You can trust me.
“That’s you and me”
I want to hold you, to swing you in my arms in delight”
“That’s you and me”
I’d like to say that after hearing God’s whisper I jumped. Carefree and trusting into the arms of my Father God.
I’d really like to say that.
Because it wasn’t just soft closing drawers that God wanted me to give him, he wanted it all. We forfeited our home, my business, our careers and our security. Just when we thought he had finished asking he asked for more. Our children, our community, our safety and our pride. We lay with our foreheads against the concrete having surrendered. He asked for this because he loves us. He is a loving Father who knows my fist is clenched, holding on to things that consume me. He knows that I have bought the lie that I can find contentment in anything other than him.
I’d like to say I trusted him and that I leapt into his arms with abandon. But I can’t. I can’t say that I willingly and easily gave my all to him. I can’t say that Christ was enough for me no matter how many times I sang it at Church. Because it’s a battle. It’s a battle for my soul and while I am sedated with my consumption, while I find my identity in my success, while I find my safety in my wealth the devil is satisfied.
Because I think perhaps, that if I learn to fly, if I learn to trust God, if I learn to and leap into the water with him, that’s when I am a weapon. When I let go of my façade and put on the armour of God, when I love my brothers and sisters, when I allow their pain to pierce through the fog of my selfishness, when relationship is restored, then his Kingdom is here.
Let your kingdom come. We sing that. But what if that means God asks us to have less? What if God asks us to let go? What if God asks us to take up our cross and follow him? What am I afraid of?
What if letting go is the Good Life?
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
So let’s imagine me at the beach…
I come from Western Australia, so when I imagine the beach, it has pearly white sand, crystal clear turquoise water and the odd white pointer shark.
I am also 6 feet tall, elegant, serene, lanky, swimsuit model type material… Hey, it’s my imagination!
Anyway, so there I stand. Soaking in the glory of God’s creation on the sand of a glorious beach, and he sits with me.
I soak him in.
I think about how he created the breeze that swirls my hair around my neck, the millions of sand particles I squish between my toes, the refreshing water I gingerly dip in, his eternal, almighty majesty envelops me. I stand up and grab a large weather worn stick. I walk over to the huge expanse of clean, firm, untouched sand.
I pierce the sand with the sharp edge of my stick. I look God straight in the eyes, so he knows I mean business, and like a petulant child I drag the stick, driving it deep into the sand with all my strength, I mark the sand. I draw a deep, wretched, scar across it, and I look at him, from across my childish line in the sand, and I say, “stay there”.
Never mind that he was and is and for evermore shall be. Never mind that he sent his son to die horrific death for me. Never mind that he created the sand, the stick and me.
I love you God. Cheers for the beach and the whole dying for me thing, you can come right up to this line, you can give me gifts from there, you can still hear my prayers, I can feel your presence, but don’t make me come any closer, don’t make me cross that line.
Why? What lies across the line? What am I afraid of? Why do I want him to keep his distance?
If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.
Perhaps you have drawn your own line in the sand. Perhaps, like me, you have found yourself captive to consumption. Perhaps you are afraid of letting go and crossing the line. Perhaps a dangerous prayer could change your world too.
The prayer of a woman who sits in slavery, waiting for God’s people to come. The prayer of a self-absorbed mum in the burbs seeking serenity. The prayer asking God for peace, for contentment and for freedom from the bondage of consumption.
Freedom that has already been purchased, we just need to let go and grab it.
Bec is a strikingly ordinary individual and a faulty follower of Jesus. She is best known for awkward moments, inappropriate thoughts and Australian humour. Her blogs reflect her deep commitment to discovering God and her passion for the poor. Bec has a husband, four ankle biters and a dog that matches the cushions on her couch, because that’s important.