I don’t know about you, but I often find it easy to lament about what I do or do not have. Do you ever feel like when you are around other people there’s almost a sense that it’s a competition to see who has the tighter budget, is saving the most money by using coupons, or who is just plain old the most frugal? We go around looking for sympathy because we’ve had to cut back to going out only once a week for dinner or limit our spending. No one is talking about being evicted from his apartment or wondering if she will get her next meal. Instead, we live in a society that seems to equate preference with poverty.
When in the heck did we develop such a screwed and inaccurate view about what it truly means to be poor? Complaining because we don’t get to eat steak and shrimp at every meal when we have a full fridge and pantry is ridiculous. Whining because we only have one bedspread and can’t buy the pretty new one that would look so amazing in our room is ridiculous. Complaining about how we have “nothing to wear” when we can’t fit all of our clothes into our closet is ridiculous. So why do we do it? And, why do we encourage each other to do it?
The reality is that we each have a different budget, different expenses, debts and the like. I’m not saying that each and every person’s financial situation is the same. You might be struggling with paying some of your bills right now and want to give me the finger for bringing this up and I welcome that. Aim it at the screen, get it out of your system. But, chances are if you are pissed off that means that there is some truth to what I am saying. We all make choices. For example, our family chose to have my husband pursue a career as a doctor and therefore we have some student loans. Do I complain about them, of course I do, but at the end of the day we made that choice. No one forced him to apply and take on the debt of earning his M.D. And if that means money is tighter for a few years, that’s how it is. For some people it’s a house in a certain neighborhood, or having two cars, or a certain type of car, private school for their kids, clothes that don’t come from thrift stores, travel, eating out, and on and on and on. We each have our own opinions about where and on what we spend our money. And to be honest, I don’t really feel there’s a place for judgement there. The place where I have a problem is when we begin to think that we are somehow entitled to everything on the list above and more. And that if for some reason we don’t have all of those things, we have a right to complain.
I once learned about the terms “relative poverty” and “true poverty.” They probably seem obvious, but I’ll define them just so you know where I am coming from. “Relative poverty” is the type that is all comparative to where I live and those around me. While I might feel that I don’t have as much as others, I still have. “True poverty” is the raw reality where I have nothing. There isn’t any room for preference or choice. There is NOTHING to eat, NO WHERE to sleep, and NO CLOTHES to wear. Basic needs are not met. Why in the US have we started to place our overindulging selves into the latter category? Why do we think we suffer so much? You know I love me some iced coffee from Starbucks, but is not being able to get one everyday really a hardship?? Of course not.
I think I’m most worried about what is going on in our hearts, friends. In my heart. I claim to be frugal, spend time thinking about the things I want and don’t have and meanwhile clutch my savings account for dear life. What am I really saving money for? Is it so that I can be a better human being or more accurately live out who I think God has called me to be? Is it so that I can write a bigger check at the next fundraiser I attend? Or is it so that I can buy a new dining room table? We constantly see celebrities giving away money on t.v., urging us to do the same. They smile, they nod, they do the publicity stuff and act as if they have cured cancer. Then they drive away in a rented limo, designer clothes and to their multi million dollar homes. It’s a LOAD. They aren’t missing that money! Giving is supposed to hurt- we are supposed to write checks that we want to tear up. It should be a sacrifice that leaves our hands empty. It forces us to realize the truth about it all- in this world we truly have nothing.
This morning I heard it put so beautifully in Garrett, one of our pastor’s, sermon. He basically said (more poetically and powerfully though) “Even the biggest bank account never stays with the owner. He dies and it passes on. That person dies and so on. We truly are like landlords of our assets here on earth.” I don’t want to completely spiritualize this, because I know that for some readers that will provide an opportunity to tune out this entire message. So, I will emphasize that nothing in the quote above is from the Bible. Anyway, just because we have a higher paying job than our neighbor does not mean that we are entitled to nicer vacations, homes, or things. There are so many factors that went into you being who and where you are today and I would say that about 90% of them had nothing to do with you. When we start to use terms like “deserve” for the abundance in our own lives we enter a scary place and imply that those who do not have also “deserve” their fate. We all know that this is not true. There are too many people in the world who suffer due to circumstances far outside of their control. Just as no child should grow up thinking he’s done something so wrong to live in poverty, no child should grow up thinking she’s done something so right to grow up in wealth.
I was starting to think about what would happen if we all start to throw more of our resources into one big global pot. Can you imagine if the playing field were to truly be leveled? Not just through a onetime gift, but indefinitely. No one would cling to their stuff and I think the overall whining level would diminish. In my frugality I can find excuses of why I can’t give and do you know what’s really sad about that? Rather than this mindset increasing my assets, it strips them bare and leaves me even more impoverished than when I began. When we choose to spend our time amassing wealth, we end up so empty. We are never going to be satisfied. We’ll never make enough money to buy all of the things we want and let’s face it, when we do earn more money we just make new goals or find more things that we want. I don’t want to live like this! I’m done. Aren’t you? I want to choose to live openly with my life and my stuff. All those boxes in my basement, take them. What I was saving for a “rainy day” is coming out now. How sad to think that a life could have been impacted by something that I had but was too cheap to relinquish.
I’m challenged today and I want to change. If you aren’t giving regularly to anything or anyone it’s time to start. All that stuff you were going to sell on Ebay, go donate it instead. Purge those closets, call 1-800-Junk to cart the stuff away and you will be amazed at the freedom you will find. It won’t be easy, but the investment is sure to payoff regardless of the economy.