Summary: In order to avoid the trap of self-indulgence, we need to: 1. Reject the spirit of entitlement and embrace a spirit of gratitude. 2. Reject excess and move toward moderation. 3. Reject the temporal and focus on the eternal.
Two years ago Morgan Spurlock created a film documentary called Supersize Me, which won several international film awards. It was based on an experiment to see what would happen if he would eat nothing but McDonald’s fast food for one month. He had three rules for this experiment: 1. During the month, he could only eat what was available over the counter at McDonald’s. 2. He couldn’t supersize his meal unless the cashier offered, but if the cashier offered he had to supersize it. 3. He had to eat every item on the menu at least once during that month. He ate every meal at McDonald’s three times a day.
Spurlock gained nine pounds in just the first week. After two weeks he had gained 18 pounds. At the end of the experiment he had gained 27 pounds in just one month. His blood pressure had risen to an unhealthy level, and he battled indigestion, nausea and depression. After three weeks, his doctor was worried about his liver. His cholesterol and other blood levels were out of control, and the medical team looking after him was concerned about a variety of health issues. He was making himself sick, and he felt tired much of the time. In spite of eating like he did, he was becoming hungry between meals. The food satisfied him for awhile, but then his blood sugar would crash and he would be ravishingly hungry. He found that when he did eat the fast food, it not only helped to satisfy his hunger, it gave him an emotional high. Only 7 items on McDonald’s menu do not contain sugar, and that includes black coffee. The more he ate, the more he wanted.
However, today we are not just talking about overeating, but the larger issue of overindulgence in general that has become the American way of life. There are several reasons that we have come to this place in the United States. My parents and grandparents went through the Great Depression. They vowed that their children would never have to go through what they did. They sacrificed and worked extremely hard to see that we would have a better life. And now we have it, the biggest and best of everything. One of the most difficult things we face is making a selection at a store while being overwhelmed with choices. We overindulge when we spend countless hours in front of the television. 49% of Americans say they watch too much TV, yet the TV set is on almost 7 hours a day in the average home. Six million videos are rented every day in this country. (By contrast, American libraries only check out 3 million items a day.) We allow our children to spend countless hours using video games, many of which have violent and sexual themes. And where would we be without the Big Kmart, Wal-Mart Superstore and Lowes? Our earning power can’t keep up with our yearning power. Many people have more than one credit card maxed out. We want these things, we expect these things and take them for granted. The spirit of Lent and self-denial does not play well in a self-indulgent culture. Mardi Gras is more our style. Fat Tuesday wins out over Ash Wednesday. But Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).
How did we get here, and what is the Christian response to our overindulgent culture? I think the first thing Christians need to do is: Reject the spirit of entitlement and embrace a spirit of gratitude. McDonald’s tells us: “You deserve a break today.” L’Oreal tells women to buy their products: “Because you’re worth it.” Chase credit cards advertise that they “provide great benefits and deliver the superior service you deserve.” The spas are calling for us to “pamper ourselves.” The car dealers try to sell us the “luxury model.” Many of the companies today make their pitch with the theme that we have somehow earned what they have, regardless of whether we can afford it. Life owes us something.
You cannot know contentment when you are nursing a feeling that somehow life has cheated you and it owes you something. You will never experience true happiness unless you embrace gratitude for what you already have. You will never get to the end of indulging yourself if you feel like you need more and deserve it. You will always answer the question of, “How much is enough,” by saying, “Just a little bit more.”