The real meaning of Black Friday

When I was growing up, my dad ran a retail furniture and appliance business. One of the lessons of retail he taught me was that “you can make your week in one day, your month in one week, and your year in one month.” In other words, retail income isn’t a steady, consistent, reliable flow – and it can sometimes feel like feast-or-famine. The point of knowing that is to discipline yourself as a retailer to live off the averages and not the exceptions. The other point is not to lose hope when times are lean. That one great day or amazing week could be right around the corner.

As a child, I was unaware of the inconsistency which may have caused pressure for my father in providing for us. The store was open every day except Sundays and Wednesdays. We worshipped on Sundays and we shopped on Wednesdays. It was that way for my entire childhood. I wasn’t aware of any financial restrictions; we always had food and clothing and could go to the doctor as needed. I have no childhood memory of worrying about provisions.

Over the past several years it has become increasingly noticeable that Thanksgiving Day is being squeezed out by its neighboring day, now known as “Black Friday.” In accounting, a “black” day would be a profit-making day that brings a business out of the “red” (operating at a loss.) Retailers today put a lot of hope in Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season that it kicks off. I suspect some actually do need to be pulled out of the red and into the black in terms of accounting, but many just want more of the black (aka “green.”)

I have a lot of issues with our consumerist culture. We easily understand concepts of profit and loss and why it is necessary to do whatever it takes to remain “in the black.” We take a profit/loss approach to just about everything we do: careers, relationships, where/when/if we serve as volunteers … you get the picture. As I learned in my sales career, everyone wears a sign that reads, “What’s in it for me?” If I stand to gain more than I lose, then I might buy what you’re selling.

I suppose that’s some of what has happened to Thanksgiving. People don’t see much personal gain in giving thanks. A day dedicated to visiting with family and sharing a special meal to commemorate a year of things for which to give thanks might seem like a waste of time. Perhaps a nod to gratitude could suffice before we hit the big sales and put a dent in our Christmas shopping.

But I would argue that an intentional day of gratitude is a great investment. I would count it as a discipline, really – a discipline that trains and prepares us to trust God for what we receive and what we can give. It was in my sales career that I learned that God is indeed my provider, regardless of who writes my checks. We could never out-give God and should never miss an opportunity to thank God. So, don’t let our cultural fascination with “big sales” on Black Friday rob you of your opportunity to be thankful first. Spend time with your loved ones and thank God for them. Even if that means you don’t get to the store until 10:00 on Friday morning.

To be “liked”

I don’t really have 562 friends. It feels good to think that I do, but I don’t really. What I do have is something that has developed over the course of the past few years … all because of Facebook. It’s my love-hate relationship with the “like” button.

Honestly, when I post some new status or picture or blog post, no human could pry the phone out of my Kung Fu grip. I have to check responses … like, every two minutes. I never used to be THAT un-cool. As a matter of fact, I had an ultra-cool, take-me-or-leave-me kind of vibe before Facebook showed up with that blasted “like” button. The “like” factor is so strong now – so compelling – that it has caused me to actually delete posts that didn’t get a response within 10-15 minutes. The thoughts I posted that were interesting to me at first suddenly seem uninteresting or perhaps, I worry, offensive to someone. Worse yet, perhaps my friends read it and didn’t like it.

It is the ultimate false identity: the “liked” me. Granted, there is a certain goodness in keeping me on my toes in terms of what I say and how I say it. Too many folks on Facebook have no filter and ARE offensive … and of course they get their comments deleted or else their news hidden from everyone’s feed instead of being “liked.”

I call it a false identity because it is driven by validation from others. You know, any identity you build for yourself based on outside validation is fragile at best. It is very similar to the enmeshed identity that grows within some couples: you begin to do all the things that your significant other “likes” so that they will continue to validate and respond positively to you. Soon enough, you begin doing what you don’t want to do in order to keep being “liked.” Eventually, you know more of what your partner likes than what you like. The goal in that relationship is to be liked forever, but at what cost? The first clue that something is awry is the realization that you haven’t given much thought to doing or being what GOD likes.

One of the biggest challenges any of us face in our lifetime is the challenge of learning who we are as the image-bearers and children of God. My wish is that everyone might take enough time with God and with him- or herself to discover who it is you were created to become and then stay true to that identity. Allow God to transform you as you grow into it. So much of the identity we portray is manufactured by us and our drive to be “liked” by others. The funniest part is that other people most often like those they find to be true to themselves, whether that “self” conforms to cultural norms or not.

So, now do you see my dilemma? When I post this blog, I really want somebody to “like” it. At the same time, I really want readers to get the message whether you all like me or not. So when you click “like,” I will read it as a message delivery receipt and nothing more. Or, at least, that’s what I’ll try to do.