A Christian’s Experience: Putting Aside Vanity, I’ve Attained Spiritual Freedom
By Xiaoyun, Hong Kong
Editor’s Note: Social competition pervades modern day society. To elicit the envy and admiration of peers, many buy famous brands with abandon, spending their monthly income well before the next paycheck has arrived. Some have even racked up serious credit card debt…. Though many such people find the whole process tiring and painful, none of them are capable of extricating themselves from this social rat race. Xiaoyun, a Christian, used to live an empty, agonized life because of her need to compete socially, but now she no longer blindly engages in such activities and has attained spiritual freedom. How did she do it? You’ll find the answer in Xiaoyun’s story of her experiences.
To Compete With Others, I Became a Shopaholic
“Xiaoyun, check out my new phone, it’s the latest model. Really nice, right?”
“I just bought this item. It’s from a famous brand. What do you think?”
At school, whenever classmates showed off in front of me, I would feel a mixture of jealousy and envy. I would think to myself, “When I grow up and have my own money, I’m definitely going to buy products from the most famous brands. The stuff I buy will be way better than yours!”
Once I had begun working, the most common topic of conversation among my colleagues and friends was who had bought clothes from which brand, who had what luxury items, and who had purchased expensive cars and houses. Seeing everyone showing off and competing with each other, I was not one to be left out or fall behind. As soon as I had gotten my first paycheck, I immediately went out and bought a new cell phone, and, in the process, immediately became a “month-end broke”—having spent my whole savings before the next paycheck arrived. I basically spent all my monthly earnings on clothes, shoes and cosmetics. When I saw a colleague had bought a bracelet worth 3,000 yuan, I went out and bought a bracelet worth 7,000 yuan. When a colleague showed off some new cosmetic product she had bought, I would not be one-upped and so I gritted my teeth and dropped 10,000 yuan on a set of essential oils. Although I knew the stuff I was buying was too expensive and it pained me greatly to spend all that money, when I showed off my new purchases to my colleagues and friends and saw the look of envy on their faces, not only did I feel great, I would also think that spending all that money was worth it!
Once, when I went to a shopping mall with my friend, she pulled me into a famous cosmetic brand store. The sales staff smiled at us as we entered and my friend kept recommending all kinds of high-end cosmetics to me. At first I was a bit reluctant and thought that everything seemed so expensive. The cheapest kind of lipstick cost a few hundred yuan, and a tiny bottle of perfume still cost a thousand yuan. However, my friend replied in an unworried tone saying, “Psh! So what if it’s expensive. Women have to care for themselves, otherwise who will care for them? Also, in today’s society, if you don’t dress to impress no one will give you the time of day!” What my friend had said seemed to make a lot of sense—only by dressing fashionably could I increase my societal stature and feel more dignified in the eyes of my friends. Having come to this realization, I steeled myself and bought some cosmetics.
From then on, I became a shopping machine. I would go to the mall every few days to buy name brand merchandise and then show off my latest purchases on social media. My friends would all leave messages on and like my posts which greatly fed my vanity.
Gripped by a Shopping Obsession, No Hope of Escape
Gradually, I realized that every time I bought something new, I would feel empty inside and this feeling was becoming more and more intense. Every time I looked at all the clothing, shoes, bags and cosmetics idling on my closet shelves, I couldn’t help but think, “Am I really running myself into the ground to make money just to buy these things and store them away? Why am I doing this? Is it just to feed my own vanity? Is there any meaning in living life in this way?”
One day, while I chatted with a friend, my friend said to me, “All this competition, it’s killing us! We all know how tiring it is to live competing in this way, but none of us can tear ourselves away—we all live in this way….” I felt a deep resonance with my friend’s words and said, “You’re right. It’s really tiring living like this!” I thought of how I just couldn’t bear to miss out and be left behind when I saw all my peers competing with each other. As a result, I worked like a dog to make money and then used all my money to go shopping. When I’d used up all my money I’d have to work even harder to make even more money. When would this vicious cycle come to an end? In quiet moments, when I reflected on all of this, I saw how I was living in suffering, but I didn’t have the personal strength to extricate myself from the situation.
The Exposition of God’s Word Led Me to See What Was Behind Social Competition
Just when I felt the most agonized and helpless, I was introduced to God’s work in the last days. After I had put my faith in God, I would often meet with brothers and sisters, read God’s word, fellowship on our experience and understanding of God’s word, sing hymns and praise God. This was a completely new life for me and I felt very happy and serene. I also noticed how the sisters and brothers were very different from my friends and peers. They didn’t compete with each other and didn’t pursue a life of luxury or material enjoyments. When we were together, we would only discuss how to pursue the truth and be an honest person, how to resolve our corrupt dispositions and live out normal humanity, and how to fulfill our duties and repay God’s love among other topics. This kind of church life filled in the emptiness in my spiritual life and gave me a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment like never before.
One time, during a meeting, I told everyone about the feelings of helplessness and sadness I was experiencing as a result of being unable to extricate myself from my competitive lifestyle. The brothers and sisters read the following passage for me: “These trends arise one after another, and they all carry an evil influence that continually debases mankind, causing people to lose conscience, humanity and reason, weakening their morals and their quality of character ever more, to the extent that we can even say that the majority of people now have no integrity, no humanity, and neither do they have any conscience, much less any reason. So what are these trends? They are trends that you cannot see with the naked eye. When a new trend sweeps through the world, perhaps only a small number of people are on the cutting edge, acting as the trendsetters. They start off doing some new thing, then accepting some kind of idea or some kind of perspective. The majority of people, however, will be continually infected, assimilated, and attracted by this kind of trend in a state of unawareness, until they all unknowingly and involuntarily accept it and become submerged in it and controlled by it. One after another, such trends cause people, who are not of sound body and mind, do not know what the truth is, and cannot differentiate between positive and negative things, to happily accept them as well as the life views and values that come from Satan. They accept what Satan tells them about how to approach life and the way to live that Satan ‘bestows’ on them, and they have neither the strength nor the ability, much less the awareness, to resist” (“God Himself, the Unique VI”).
A sister fellowshiped with me in regard to God’s word. She said, “Why has this kind of competitiveness become so prevalent in society? Why is it that so many people find this way of living very tiring and yet seem unable to extricate themselves? God’s word has exposed the source of this problem. In fact, competition is a social phenomenon created by Satan. It is a method that Satan uses to corrupt mankind. Look at people today: No matter young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, people are always competing against each other. The result is that under the influence of this evil trend, we’ve all become increasingly superficial and grown ever more competitive. We all think that dressing ourselves in nicer clothes than anyone else is a symbol of high social standing and status. When we out-compete our peers we feel a sense of superiority, but when we come up short we feel frustrated and disappointed. Many spend their hard-earned money on luxury products so that they can show themselves off in front of others. Though they might temporarily feed their vanity in this way and look ‘cool’ to others, they end up as ‘month-end brokes’ and some even end up racking up huge credit card debt. They live an increasingly stressful lifestyle and feel great emptiness and suffering in their hearts. There are even those that, in order to wear high-end clothing, tote famous name-brand purses, drive expensive cars and live in mansions will even sell out their own human dignity and act as mistresses to the rich. Even more unthinkably, there are those that even sell their own organs for the sake of competition and to tout their prosperity. All of this suffering is the result of this evil trend which Satan has brought among us.”
The exposition of God’s word and my sister’s fellowship shook me to the core: Did God’s word not expose my current situation? In my competition with my peers, I became obsessed with shopping and buying high-end cosmetics and clothing. Even though I knew that I probably would never use a lot of what I bought, I just couldn’t stop myself. My life was spinning out of control. As it turned out, this was all Satan’s deception and torment! It was only then that I realized that social competition and flagrant displays of wealth were not positive things, but were evil trends initiated by Satan itself to deceive and corrupt people. In the future, I couldn’t let myself follow these trends anymore.
Visited Once More by Temptation, I Found a Path of Practice
Later on, I realized that it wouldn’t be so easy to break free from the fetters of this evil trend.
One time when I was out on the town with my boyfriend, I saw a number of items in a name-brand clothing store that I liked. When I tried on the clothing, the salesperson kept saying how well it fit me and how beautiful I looked in that outfit. My reason told me that I already had more than enough clothing and I shouldn’t buy anymore, so I abruptly left the store. However, right when I left the store, I thought that if I wore that outfit in front of my friends and colleagues, they would certainly compliment me and even if I didn’t wear it, I could still post it on social media and this would be good for my overall reputation and standing. Having come to this conclusion, I went right back in the store and bought the clothing. However, when I got home and looked at the clothes, I didn’t feel at all happy. I thought to myself, “Why can’t I control my desire to shop? Why is it that, even though I know Satan just uses these evil trends to corrupt mankind, I still can’t help myself?”
I shared my confusion with a sister and she sent me the following passage of God’s word: “The ingredients of a person’s nature are constantly revealing themselves. Anything a person does, regardless of what it is, can reveal that person’s nature. People have their own motives and purposes for everything they do…. Some people especially love beauty and pay special attention to what they wear, changing their outfits multiple times a day. Whenever a woman like this sees someone with nice makeup or a nice outfit on, she loses sleep if she cannot obtain these things herself. She feels she must obtain those things even if she has to borrow money, and will pay any other price she needs to get them, and if she cannot, then she will not have the heart to believe in God; she will lack the desire to attend meetings, and will not be able to absorb God’s words when reading them. Those objects have already occupied her mind; they are what she thinks about all day long. This sort of person is extremely vain, much more so than most people. This vanity is an element of their nature; it is something within their bones. Such a person’s nature is one of vanity” (“How to Know Man’s Nature”).
Through the exposition of God’s word I realized that the reason I still couldn’t keep myself from following Satan’s evil trend even though I knew that’s exactly what social competition was, was because I had been corrupted too deeply by Satan and my vanity was too strong. I had been controlled by such satanic life philosophies and principles as, “As a tree lives for its bark, a man lives for his face,” and “A man leaves his name behind wherever he stays, just as a goose utters its cry wherever it flies.” I was completely absorbed by my vanity and always wanted to earn the admiration and praise of others. During school, when other classmates showed off in front of me, I would become envious. Later, as an adult, when I saw how other people all were buying famous name-brand products, I followed this evil trend and bought countless luxury items. I wanted to earn the admiration of my peers and satisfy my own vanity by wearing the most fashionable clothes. This time, I knew that I shouldn’t buy anymore because I already had more than enough clothing, but hearing the praise of the salesperson and thinking of how I could show off the clothes to my friends, I just couldn’t keep myself from buying them. Only then did I see clearly that Satan had used my vanity to tempt me into following this evil trend of social competition with no hope of escape. How evil Satan is!
I later read those words of God: “So how can this matter be resolved? People should implore God frequently so that they do not fall into temptation and succumb to Satan’s deceptions. In this evil time, in this age infested by devils, you should pray that God’s kindness and protection will be with you often, and that He looks after you and protects you, so that your heart does not leave Him and you strive to be able to worship Him honestly and with all your heart and spirit” (“Believers First Need to See Through the Evil Trends of the World”).
God’s word helped me to realize that this Satan-dominated world is absolutely full of seduction and temptations. Taken in combination with the fact that we have been thoroughly corrupted by Satan and are far too vain, we humans are easily tempted to follow Satan’s evil trends, placing great importance on clothing and luxurious indulgences. As a result, we are duped and tormented by Satan. If we want to distance ourselves from these evil trends, we must quiet ourselves before God, rely upon and look up to God and pray to God for guidance and protection. Especially when confronted with Satan’s temptations, we must earnestly pray to God, asking that He protect our hearts so that we do not suffer Satan’s seduction, and remain unfettered and not bound by our corrupt dispositions, allowing us to consciously abandon our vanity and distance ourselves from all evil trends. After I had found a path of practice through God’s words, I prayed to God saying, “Dear God, I now know that because of excessive vanity, I would often involuntarily fall prey to Satan’s evil trends and social competition. I ask that You protect me so that I may distance myself from Satan’s torments. I am willing to rely upon You to practice the truth.”
Practicing According to God’s Word, Escaping From Suffering
One time, while I was shopping at a department store, I saw a sales counter selling a trendy new lipstick. Out of curiosity, I went over and tried out the lipstick for myself. When I checked myself out in the mirror, the lipstick did seem really nice and gave me a look of youthful vitality. I thought to myself, “If I use this lipstick, I’ll definitely earn the admiration and praise of my peers.” Just as I had become interested in buying the lipstick, I thought of this passage of God’s word, “The flesh belongs to Satan. Within it are extravagant desires, it thinks only for itself, it wants to enjoy comfort and revel in leisure … if you satisfy it this time, next time it will come asking for more. It always has extravagant desires and new demands, and takes advantage of your pandering to the flesh to make you cherish it even more and live among its comforts” (“Only Loving God Is Truly Believing in God”). Indeed, if I were to always sate my own vanity, I would soon once again fall prey to Satan’s evil trends and be incapable of escaping Satan’s corruption and torment. In the past, it was just because of my need to feed my vanity and earn the admiration of others that I had given in, time and again, to Satan’s deception, going around all day like a shopping machine, spending money like water and feeling empty and aggrieved inside. This time, I should consciously betray my own vanity; I could not allow myself to be deceived by Satan’s evil plots anymore.
As such, I quietly prayed to God, “Dear God, I have too small a stature and so I am unable to resist Satan’s seduction and temptations. I beseech You to protect my heart so that I am never again deceived by Satan and I pray that You give me the power to practice the truth.” After prayer, I attained a sense of calm and steadfastly walked out of the department store. In practicing the truth and betraying the flesh, I’ve gained an unprecedented feeling of serenity and peace.
Nowadays, I no longer buy things I don’t need and no longer blindly follow along with others in their social competition. What’s more, I also now spend more time attending meetings, reading God’s word, and spreading God’s kingdom gospel. I feel a sense of freedom and emancipation unlike any I’ve felt before and I thank God for saving me from Satan’s evil trends. Amen!