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Idol factory open for business

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By Nancy Kennedy

Today I did not go to the outlet store next to the grocery store.

That may not mean much to you, but to me it was a major big deal.

Lately, I haven’t been able to stop at the market without checking out the outlet. Even if I park far away I’ll say, “I need to walk more,” and head over to see what’s new on the racks.

Once there I say, “I’ll just look but not try on.” Or “I’ll try on but not buy,” except I usually end up buying. Then I end up not really wanting what I buy. I’ll put stuff in my closet where it sits until I give it away.

To ease my conscience, I’ve devised a rule: If I buy something new, something has to go. And I never buy new coat hangers.

Except earlier this year I did.

Sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin once said that our hearts are “perpetual idol factories” and that “every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.”

My not being able to stay out of the outlet store is a symptom of my idolatry — and I should know better. A few years ago I wrote a book on the subject of idols, and you’d think I’d have a handle on mine.

For those who question my use of the word “idol” to describe my love for shopping, here’s the definition of an idol: any thing, person, possession, place, activity, experience, relationship, substance or idea (basically, anything other than God) that I turn to first for pleasure, comfort, satisfaction or meaning. Shopping hits all the criteria.

Even though I know I should turn to God first, and sometimes I do, more often I don’t. The not-God stuff is shinier and softer and on sale for $9.99. Chasing after not-God stuff comes naturally. It’s easy. It’s my default mode.

I know that no jacket or sweater or pair of stretch boot-cut jeans, no matter how perfect the fit or how great the bargain, will ever completely satisfy whatever it is I’m looking to have satisfied. I wrote that in my book! Still, I keep going back for more.

Sometimes I think I understand alcoholics who keep going back to the bar day after day. Just as they might switch from whiskey to vodka to peach or peppermint schnapps, I switch from clothing to jewelry to cosmetics to shoes.

It’s all the same. It’s all not God. It’s all empty, just an attempt to chase and catch the wind.

St. Augustine said, “Which of the things he (God) has made can satisfy you, if God himself does not?” Good point, Auggie.

Last week I decided to grit my teeth and make myself be satisfied with God. I knew I was an idol factory, cranking out my idols like an assembly line on full speed. So, whenever I’d start thinking about clothes I’d make myself think about Jesus and poor people in third world countries who don’t even wear clothes and yet are happy.

But the more I tried not to think about shopping, the more I thought about it, and then I started thinking that God was mean and what’s his beef with sweaters on clearance anyway?

After a few days I couldn’t take it any longer and went to outlet and bought — I don’t even remember. I do remember feeling anxious as I bought it and not even wanting it once I got in my car. I felt like I had let God down, that he was surely ashamed of me and that he had every right not to speak to me ever again, or at least until I repented really, really long and hard.

But I also knew, as sincerely disgusted with myself as I was, that I couldn’t change myself. That’s when he reminded me that I can’t force myself to love him, but the more I let myself be loved by him the easier it’ll be to not turn to all my not-him idols first.

And then today I went to the market for milk. As always, I thought about going to the outlet, but I didn’t. I didn’t try not to go, I just didn’t want to. I remembered about God and smiled, because sometimes it’s a struggle and we have to fight to keep ourselves from our idols, but sometimes it’s as simple as remembering that God smiles on his own.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.