Perfection: gleaming, glorious perfection. Steve Jobs got it right when he started packaging Apple products in beautiful mirrored plastic, well-designed curves and white unblemished construction. I’ve run my hands over new products again and again—hoping some of it would transfer onto me: how new it all is, the untapped potential.
Not me. I was broken, worn and complicated. Nothing shiny here. Every time Calvin Klein, Michael Kors or Marc Jacobs unveiled a new product promising to make me sparkle, I ran for the mall.
I wanted to be that girl. I wanted to have hair that glided from side to side in a neat waterfall, a smile that never yellowed, eyes that always twinkled. I wanted to be the envy of everyone I passed. “That girl has it all,” they’d think, “she is perfect.”
Every time a magazine or blog said “this is what you should buy. This is what chic girls wear,” I bought it.
If you’re wondering whether I could think for myself; I couldn’t. I never said “no” to a single trend. I bounced from item to item, getting higher and higher each time the cash register printed out a white, glistening receipt.
I brought home new things in small bags like prizes, hid them away in my closet until my roommates weren’t looking. I returned 13 things in two months, bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of brand name junk on eBay and spent my student loan money on fancy winter boots, expensive makeup, premium poly/wool blend jackets and leather purses.
Every time someone complimented my new shoes, my new headband, my new bag, I felt like a million bucks.
At first, it was fairly innocent. I would shop here and there when I was bored. I would peruse things online. I would search for items on Google. I would shop sales. Then, I started shopping on weekends by myself, foregoing social activities for the sake of hitting the mall.
Eventually, I was running out during lunch time, quickly hitting stores for a nice lunch high and then running back to my desk with a bag in hand. At one point, it was every thought I had—clothes, bags and shoes—before bed and first thing in the morning.
I became obsessed.
Eventually, I racked up about $15,000 in debt (I lost count).
Of course, it all started cracking. One night, my best friend came over and told me about her husband’s pornography addiction. He constantly hit the websites, thought about porn all day, talked about sex like a drug, and hid encounters from her. Their marriage was falling apart and she had thrown him into addictions counseling and support groups.
Geez, I thought, it must suck to be that addicted to something.
I wasn’t deterred. I went on blindly telling myself that buying things was nothing like sex. You couldn’t use stuff like a drug. It was just stuff. I had a good job. I deserved nice things. I worked hard.
During this time, I took a job in marketing for a huge retail company. It was just me and 45 unbelievers (all women). These girls had everything—Gucci bags, Chanel purses, Dior shoes. They scoured sites just like me, and knew every designer by name. I started to identify with them—and compete with them. I wanted to beat them. They were beautiful, and I felt unworthy. The more I bought to keep up, the worse I felt. I was trying so hard to fit in, to meet the standard, to run the race.
One night, we all went to dinner. The “it” girls sat together, and I felt myself desperately wanting them to invite me. But they never did. That night, I realized I wasn’t a contender at all. I was a fraud. I wasn’t going to fit in. I wasn’t even in the running. Why did I even care?
I had once found my identity in being different from non-believers, in believing that this world couldn’t save me. That night, I saw my stark desperation for what it was: plain and simple idolatry. I wanted an identity made up of perfect, beautiful things. I wanted to earn my place with people because of everything I owned, and all it represented—wealth, grace, glory.
But the more crap I threw onto my pile of stuff, the darker my insides became. The more stuff I put on my credit card, the less I believed the truth: that I was worth enough to die for. Eventually, I wasn’t turning to God for my worth at all. I turned to stuff instead. And I was completely indistinguishable from those who don’t believe in God. I had become just like everyone else.
Somehow though, the more I shopped, the more trapped I felt. Until eventually, I felt like a slave, chasing after things with no power to change me. The more I chased, the more I needed the chase. The desire for stuff became a monster I couldn’t control.
It was then I began to ask God to restore my identity—to help me find it in Him.
Do you know that in a hostage situation, the negotiators talk down the aggressor by speaking to their identity? They say “this is not who you are—you don’t have to be this.” God does the same with us. He changes our identity. But we forget. We forget who we are, we forget our freedom, we forget our father. We think we are something else, we think we need to be filled by other things.
God talked me down by speaking to my identity. Every day He reminded me I was free, I didn’t need to choose slavery and it wasn’t going to save me. All I needed to do was look to Him and marvel at His beauty, His gleaming glory.
The more I did that, the better I got. The more I did that, the less stuff I needed. The more I remembered that stuff couldn’t fix me, the more I looked to Jesus.
Maybe I’m not whole yet, maybe I’m never going to be in this life. But at least I’m free.
Editor’s note: A version of this story run in 2013.