When I was a little girl, my mother would take me shopping (she still does!) to buy new shoes for school or new dress, etc. She would let me try on as many things as I liked, but I was only allowed to buy what I needed not what I wanted. She would always ask me “Katie, do you need that? Or do you want it?” I usually wanted many more things than I needed. From a young age, I learned the difference between need and want, and this is a very important distinction. I also learned in many youth group sessions and Sunday school classes that God provides what we need, and we would always talk about how what we need differs from what we want.
Over the past year or so, I’ve realized that there is a third category: what we’re used to. Of course, every culture, socioeconomic class, and race has different things that they are used to. But there are certain things that many of us in American culture are used to, and we tend to confused what we’re used to with what we need. As a society, we blur the line between actual need of material goods and things and those things that we, as a culture, as used to having access to.
Cars and space provide excellent examples of this concept. We don’t really need cars or as much space, as we’re used to. (trust me about the space thing) I know that in many areas of the country we currently need cars, but much of this dependency, I believe, is that we refuse to invest in and rely on public transportation. Does every person of driving age in the family really need a car? Or are we just used to having them? Furthermore, there are many rural areas of the world where having a car is still a luxury and not a need. People walk to the market and walk to work, etc. Space is another thing that we are used to having a lot of, and we usually want more of it. With all of our space, we tend to fill it up with things, which in turn gives us the desire for more space. (Honestly, I miss my 300 sq. ft. apartment in HK. I didn’t collect stuff nearly as much as I do here, and I could clean it so fast! I also felt the need to be outside in the world because it felt so small.)
Because we tend confuse our need with what our society tells us we should be used to having, we fail to rely on God to provide for our needs or blame God for not providing everything. We forget that God did not promise to provide us with two/three cars and a house with a garage for each vehicle. We also forget that we need more than just things. We need friends and family and to feel accepted and loved. God provides for all these real needs.
As with many life lessons, the concept of need vs. used to is something that I continue to struggle with because I love clothes, and I love having a lot of clothes. But my faith calls me to examine what society tells me and realize that when I redefine my definition of need, I can provide for someone else’s emotional, spiritual and physical needs.