The school year is coming to an end here in Kansas. We are attending recitals, concerts, assemblies and awards programs. Our children are being promoted to the next grade level, high school seniors are graduating, teachers are retiring. There’s a lot to commend, a lot to celebrate.
But I’m not talking about Awards Programs.
I’m talking about Rewards Programs.
On Wednesday I had a long list of errands to run. One of those included stopping off at the bank and depositing cheques. Lowell and I had a couple to deposit. Connor had another two, plus his shared tips from the restaurant and Adelaide, our newest bank account holder, also had one. As I was concluding my deposit stack the bank clerk so sweetly asked me, “Ms Bliss are you signed up for our rewards program?” I looked her in the face. I made eye contact. And in that moment I had a wave of bravery come over me. I was honest and I replied, “I am…but I have no idea what I’m saving points for. I can’t figure out how to access them nor do I know what good they do me!”
She pulled out a little brochure (which I already have, but I didn’t tell her that) and she began her speal. “All you do is go to this website and register your blah blah blah”…. I tuned her out. I’ve heard it all before but it just sounds like too much work. I don’t really understand it and the effort involved makes me tired.
And the bank isn’t the only Rewards Program I’m signed up for. Attached to my key chain are the grocery store Plus points cards (I understand and appreciate that one….it brings down the price of our gas!), a Walgreen’s Balance Rewards card (the checkout clerk who signed me up was fuzzy on what this did for me. Savings? Discounts? He couldn’t tell me. Perhaps he got Rewards for signing people up for the Rewards card?), a self-evident Staples Ink and Toner Savings Pass, a Borders rewards card (are they still in business?), a My Panera member card (I think this one accumulates free treats but it hasn’t worked yet), a Hastings Entertainment Passport (Passport?? Sure you can call it that as long as you understand that when you go through “immigration” it costs you!), a Dick’s Sporting Goods Scorecard rewards card (I think we bought something there once…) and a Shop Your Way Rewards card.
What exactly are they rewarding me for? As far as I can figure, and I could be way off on this, they are rewarding me for shopping, for spending, for the frenzy, for buying!
Several years ago we were in a very fancy mall in Dubai. It was early January. Christmas was over but there were lingering decorations and pretties in the shops. I saw a sign on one store window that surprised me. In beautiful calligraphy, as only the Middle East cultures can do, in a large font was scrolled the words, “The Spirit of….” I expected it to finish up with the word, “Christmas”. That would have been surprising enough in Dubai, a city and culture that doesn’t typically celebrate the birth of the Christ-child. But what I read shocked me even more. The sign read, “The Spirit of…..Shopping!”
That is wrong on so many levels.
We have an economy based on need and greed, supply and demand. We are being rewarded for participating in the system. Whether we need it or not, whether we already have it or not, whether we have too much of it or not…..Buy! Shop! Spend!
The ancient spiritual discipline of simplicity isn’t available in aisle 7 in your department store. You can’t purchase it anywhere. It’s found in giving away, in self-control, in generosity. It’s likely found outside, in the woods, at the park, on the front porch. It’s probably found in solitude or with friends around a meal. There’s less rush and frenzy in simplicity. There’s more freedom and simple joys.
Simplicity gives you the space to breathe, to connect with God, with friends, with your children. Simplicity sees through the deception and discerns, “I don’t really need that! It’s not going to make me happy”. Simplicity breeds contentment and gratitude.
I recently spoke on five different spiritual habits or practices at a retreat in Alberta. One of the practices I taught on was Simplicity. This week I got a letter in the mail from my friend who invited me to speak in the first place. She wrote, “Oh, and I have to tell you the ‘simplicity’ talk obviously really hit home–(the Thrift Store where she volunteers) is overrun and people are trying to give away all kinds of stuff at church. Love it! Made me smile all week!”
And there are no points to be earned in that.You don’t have to register online. You don’t have to sign up for the Rewards Program, “It’ll only take a minute…!” It’s true, nothing is captured on a card,and yet–obviously– the rewards are numerous.
What about you? How do you find simplicity in our ever more complicated world? Would love to hear from you through the comments.