These past few months I have been working madly to de-clutter our home. Actually, not madly. Mindfully. Or maybe it is a bit of both. I have been trying to find some breathing room within it, both literally and figuratively. It has been a real period of reckoning for me and for my family.
After months of sorting through drawers, cabinets, closets, and boxes, I ended up taking three trips in our van to Goodwill, two trips to the recycling center, threw away multiple bags of items that were of no use to anyone, and staged two yard sales.
Right before our second yard sale, I stood and took stock of all the stuff that sat in piles on our porch waiting to be offered for sale to friends and neighbors, I realized that everything in that hip-high pile had once made me some promise of happiness. True happiness.
I do not want to say that none of those items ever brought me a moment of pleasure. That would be untrue. Many of them did bring me pleasure for a while. But true happiness? No. Any item that promised me true happiness could never have fulfilled it. And that is a truth that it has taken me a long while to learn.
This is my little tale about walking away from a certain cosmetic item that was promising more than it could possibly deliver. We’ve all had this experience. Maybe with cosmetics. Maybe with clothing. Maybe with a beer. Or a boat. Or a candy bar. Or a new house.
There’s always something promising us happiness, if only we pony up and shell it out. But true happiness can only be found within. No purchase, large or small can create true happiness. And once we see this, we can be free.
I am taking a risk here. That you will think I am shallow. Or vain. Or both. How could I be so deeply involved in a struggle with a tube of lip gloss? Well, this is really about how something so superficial can lure us into an inner dialogue about our deepest needs. To be seen. To be loved. To belong. To be embraced. To be happy.
And that is not shallow. That is elemental to all of us.
So if you see yourself in this little dialogue, take heart. You are not shallow. Or vain. You are human. So am I.
The other day I was in Target returning a pair of shorts for my oldest son.
And it called to me.
A pretty pink tube of lip gloss.
And not just any lip gloss. Lip gloss that changes color on your lips. Lips gloss that transforms from clear to pink when it touches your skin.
Buy me, it said.
My inner teenager was awakened within my heart. I took a couple of steps closer.
I dabbed a bit on my finger and touched it to my lips. And just as it had promised, it turned a lovely shade of pink before my eyes.
You look younger, it told me.
I shook my head and put it back on the shelf. I am 46 years old, I told the lip gloss. No one would mistake me for a teenager. I don’t need it.
But you’ll be happier, it insisted. People will find you more attractive. You’ll be admired. You’ll be surrounded by people who’ll find you irresistible. You’ll feel loved and wanted. You’ll never be alone.
You’re a lip gloss, I told it. I have other lip glosses. They’ve all promised me youth. Attractiveness. Happiness. But mostly they just made my lips shinier. Some of them made my lips another color. But none of them made me happy. Not one lived up to that promise.
I’m different, it said. I’m the real deal. You can throw away all your other lip glosses. All your makeup really. And every shred of clothing that you ever thought would bring you real contentment. They’re all impostors. I’m it. I’m the key. Happiness in a tube. Just pick me up. Walk me over to the cash register. Hand the lady $20. And you’ll be set for life. You’ll be youthful. Alluring. You’ll never be lonely or uncomfortable again. I’ve got everything you’ve ever wanted. That’s a bargain for $20. Trust me.
You’re a fraud, I told it. If happiness could fit into a tube, wouldn’t everyone in this store be clambering for you. You’re after me. You know me. You know my weaknesses. You know my insecurities. I’m not buying it. And I’m definitely not buying you.
Your loss! it yelled after me. Someone else will buy me! They’ll be the beautiful one! They’ll be the happy one!
As I rounded the corner to walk out the door, I heard it whisper seductively to another passing customer: I promise. I’m perfect for you. Why, you look happier already . . .