From June 1996 to August 1998, I worked for a small graphic design firm right in midtown, at the corner of 42nd Street and 3rd Avenue.
On so many levels, I remember feeling like I was at a huge disadvantage during that time in my life. It was my first job out of college. I was earning an entry-level salary that didn’t quite pay the bills. I had moved there from rural Ohio, which was about like moving from Earth to Mars. I had never lived on my own, much less in one of the world’s largest cities. Having been born and raised in the sticks, I had no concept of the simplest urban conventions—which would take me by surprise almost daily.
But in contrast, I was surrounded by people who were lifetime residents of this strange place. They had learned things as children that were now so foreign to me at 23. They owned homes and nice cars which, in that environment, was inconceivable to me.
I remember constantly asking myself, “How in the world am I ever going to get my head above water and have More—like them?”
The longer I lived there, the more I realized that they were asking themselves that same question. In New York, it’s the question that constantly runs through everyone’s mind. From the subway tunnels, to the tip of the tallest building, New York’s message to the world is You Need More. Whether you live on $1200 a month (like I did), or whether you live in a multi-million-dollar penthouse overlooking Central Park, you don’t have to look far to see someone with More. And every ounce of your being burns to get there.
It would be naïve and unfair of me to say that this allure only exists in New York. But I’m telling you, when you’re there, you can smell and taste the message. Every time you inhale, it’s a different smell. Everywhere you look, it’s a different billboard advertising the latest fashion, or car, or beverage. And it changes daily. The More you needed yesterday is not the More you need today. There is new More now.
Truth is, we all fall prey to this dangling carrot—even out in the sticks. We all have self-installed billboards in our lives that woo us to want More. Brands hold out lofty promises that only the Bible can make. Moth and dust corrupt what the world flies in front of our faces. Madison Avenue’s More is a fool’s More, that will have already tarnished tomorrow. Yet we go after it, as if it’s promises were true.
I don’t regret my time in New York. But I don’t miss the palpable message to want More shiny objects with a not-so-shiny tomorrow. These empty promises erode my contentment in Christ, and cause me to forget that the riches that are mine in Him are immeasurable, incorruptible and unfading.
The problem is not that the glowing billboards shine brighter than Christ. As C.S. Lewis said, the problem is that I am far too easily pleased.
On one of those nights on my business trip, as I was crossing a busy Broadway crosswalk with my colleague, he turned to me and asked, “So do think you’ll ever move back to New York?”
And there, in the glow of the stock tickers and music of taxi horns, like a fool, I replied, “Only if I was independently wealthy.”
Clearly, I have a long way to go.