Michelle Neitzke

No Empty Hangers: Need vs. Want

“But Mom I neeeed it”

“You really need another pair of jeans?”

“No Mom, but I reeeally want them!”

That’s just a small taste of the conversations between my mom and I when I was younger. Growing up I loved to shop but I didn’t understand the difference between wants and needs. I thought I needed everything. In our culture it is really hard to distinguish between what we actually need and what we want. It took me a long time to figure this out, and sometimes I still have to wrestle with it. But here is the conclusion I came to: most of the things I purchase are for my enjoyment. I don’t technically need everything I have or even that I buy.

But that’s not what the world tells us.

The consumer market thrives on wanting their buyers to never feel satisfied. Want a new phone? Cool. We will make a better one in 6 months. Like your T.V.? Don’t like it for too long because we’ll have a new one in a few months. Here are the latest fashion trends, but don’t worry we will tempt you with more next season… You get the point.

It is impossible to keep up with every new thing. We can’t keep up and we shouldn’t. At some point we have to say, I have enough, I am blessed.

What’s good?

Things, people, and actions can either be intrinsically good, neutral or evil. People are good (because we were created by God) actions can be good or evil depending on our intentions. But “things” are neither good nor evil. We aren’t influenced by things because of the things themselves; we are influenced because we desire something greater from them (power, pride, reputation, to be better than the next person, etc.).

A lot of times we want things because of what we perceive they can actually give us.

Scenario one: I want the latest smart phone so I can “one up” my best friend.
Scenario two: It’s time for a new phone and I really like the features and look of certain model.

The first scenario leads me into sin, the second doesn’t.

As Christians, most of us are not called to live a life of voluntary poverty (though it can be a great path to holiness) most of us are called to live a life where we interact with “things” daily. This too can be a great path of holiness.

Pope Francis (or as I like to call him, Papa Frank) has been a great model to the world in the way that he exercises his relationship to material goods. He has often preferred more simple things rather than something extravagant. Pope Francis says,

“Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the center of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings.”

The bottom line is that “things” are not our identity and we cannot place our identity in them. Our identity comes from God. Nothing we possess on earth lasts, but what does last is our relationship God, which is for eternity. Only when we recognize this can we have a healthy relationship with “things.”

Think About This

This doesn’t mean we can have whatever we want. Sometimes God wants to make us uncomfortable, sometimes He wants us to make sacrifices.

Here are a few rules to help you examine your relationship with your possessions:

1. Do I need it?
Is it necessary? If I don’t need it, why do I want it? If you just want something because you think it might make you look cool or you want others to be jealous, then don’t buy it.

2. Will you use it for Gods glory?
God has given us many things and He really does want us to enjoy them. There is a way to give God glory in our relationship to what we use or own. We do this when we treat things as gifts and we enjoy them for what they are, not what power they can give us.

3. Is God calling me to sacrifice?
Let’s be honest, I love clothes and probably have too many of them. Because of this God often asks me to sacrifice this “love” and not go shopping in order that He can redirect my heart to Him or give that money to a charity. That’s not always fun but it teaches me not only to appreciate what I have but also to not lose sight of God in my things, or in my case my closet!

I will pray for the grace we need to know the differences between our wants and needs.

It’ll make your mama proud!

Michelle Neitzke

About the Author

I am originally from the south but somehow found my way up to the northern tundra (aka Saint Paul, Minnesota) where I live and also work for an amazing parish in the Archdiocese. I love good humor, fall weather, black olives, tea, studying theology, bodies of water, Chick-fil-a, bookstores, and great company. I love sharing my faith with others and I consider it an honor that I am able to participate in the Church’s mission of making the name of Jesus Christ known and loved. Follow me on Twitter @MichelleNeitzke