Which is more blessed: poverty or plenty? (Some thoughts on wealth, faith, and the feelings that go with that)

Gilted Guilt.

I’ve been wondering about this recently: the feelings of guilt that—for me and many other Christians—seem to attend the having of things and money.

There’s a Scriptural basis for the call to financial simplicity:  ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’, said Jesus, and ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. ‘The love of the money is the root of all kinds of evil’, warned Paul. And I hear it around me, too: from the Kon-Marie call to purge and simplify one’s life, the rise of Buy Nothing communities, to the hilarious-yet-convicting Jen Hatmaker read 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess… there’s a lot out there that commends buying less, having less, living more.

What complicates it further is increasingly realizing how privileged our wealth is. We work hard, yes… but there is no way that I can say I worked for and deserve all I have. I am, from birth to death, the recipient of bucketloads of privilege. Born with a white skin to educated parents in a country where the legal system opened doors to whiteness that it slammed to brownness: I got health care, education, opportunity. I was born English-speaking in a world that favors English. Having financial stable relatives opened doors to being able to do things like buy homes, travel, secure loans for entrepreneurial ideas. Privilege cumulates: it wasn’t just that I was born into privilege… it’s that the system continues to reward it. (For a brilliant explanation, read this on how riding a bike taught this guy about privilege).

So then, what does it look like to be a privileged, wealthy person of faith? Jesus has called me to simplicity and to

Our cherry tree. Oh, the bounty.

pursue the Kingdom first and to beware of greed and the love of money which is like bermuda grass to the soul… and yet I live in this place, in this time, in this skin. We own a car. We own a (big) house. We have fruit trees that produce cherries and plums and tongue-tang perfect oranges. We live in a safe, well-resourced community with a school district that is the envy of surrounding cities. Having more (food! savings! travel! cute shoes!) is not only possible, but desirable… and is strongly encouraged by every glossy-paged advert that gets stuffed into my mailbox.

It’s so easy to be greedy.

And, coupled with news of those starving all over the world and the realities that it is not merit but mercy that separates my living conditions from theirs, it’s so easy to feel guilty.

I’ve been wrestling with this since we moved into what is admittedly our dream house a couple months ago. What does it mean to live amid such abundance? I am tempted to downplay the gifts (“oh, this old thing? let me point out the faults so you aren’t too jealous…”), or just ignore them completely. Or feel guilty. Guilt is always knocking at the door asking to come and play.

However, as I’ve wrestled and prayed over this, God is gentle\y reminding me of some additional truths. Yes, it is true that Jesus had no possessions, but it is also true that his ministry was supported by wealthy women of independent means. While it is true that for our sake, Jesus became poor 2 Cor 8:9., it is also true that  God himself is rich in every way (power! goodness! all creation is his!), and that the Father has no Gilted Guilt over it. Instead: he is GENEROUS with his riches. He lavishes his grace on us. He shares his inheritance with Jesus and all those who are his.

So, rather than feeling guilt and greed over wealth, I am called to gratitude and generosity. 

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do food, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17)

It baffles me that God has set up the world where evil and good thrive side by side: where we will “always have the poor with us”, while others are “richly provided with everything for their enjoyment.” And it baffles me all the more that we are in the latter rather than the former category. Why? Why? I don’t know. It is a mystery; it is not merited.

I may not know why, but I do know what God asks of us, should we find ourselves among the fed/clothed/free/literate/privileged. He asks us not to put our confidence in that, but in Him. He asks us to enjoy what we have as gifts. And he asks us to be generous. Generous with our time, generous with our money, generous with our home.

Yes, there are those who identify with the sufferings of Jesus in his poverty; but perhaps there is also a place for us to gratefully identify with the God who has plenty and throws his arms and doors open to the world and invites them to share in his goodness. And so—following his example—we say yes, we can host that dinner. Yes, you may borrow our car. Yes, we can help with this or that.

Not guilt, gratitude.

Not greed, generosity.

Remind me of this if you see me getting tangled (again), please? And come over and eat bread and pick fruit off our trees: come and taste and see with us that the Lord is good.

 

 

 

One question to ask if you’re wondering “should I buy this?”

One question to ask if you're wondering_One of the big challenges for me as a believer, living in the world that I do, is trying to figure out how to manage the stuff we own. Words like stewardship, financial planning, wisdom, investment, generosity, living debt-free and justice are all bandied around within the Christian community when the topic of money is raised.

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Often, I feel that “wise counsel” about money gives very contradictory advice. Should we “give generously to those who are hungry now, and trust God for the future?”, or should we “invest wisely for the future so as to not be a burden on our children?” Should be live simply, so as to avoid the meaninglessness of possessions; or should be enjoy the things that money can bring and just make sure we give a nod to God in thanks for His good gifts? Buy a big house and use it for ministry? Should I buy new clothes at all or embrace the life of thrift store shopping? Or is the Christian halfway point to commit to only buying things on clearance at Target? Should I listen to Shane Claiborne or Dave Ramsey?

Is anyone else confused?

My mind reels with those kinds of questions. Rich or poor, what does it mean to be “rich towards God” (Luke 12:21)

I have lots of questions about these issues, and thus far very few answers. But early in our marriage, my wise hubby did suggest one principle when it came to managing our belongings, and it has been the start-of-an-answer for me.

His Our rule of thumb when buying something is: if we’re not willing to lend it out, we shouldn’t own it.

This one little rule has helped me keep some perspective in both acquiring and using our belongings: they are for USE. If the car is too fancy to lend out to a friend in need, then then car is too fancy for us. If I’m not willing to lend out the dress, to offer our guest room, to say yes to a request to borrow the camping gear or to host a meeting for malodorous people – then I need to rethink the dress, the guest room, the camping gear, the sofa. People always need to trump possessions.

True- we try to be discerning. We don’t lend our car to unlicensed drivers. And sometimes things get returned damaged or with piece missing (anyone seen the straps for our thermarests?) But that’s okay: those possessions gave us an opportunity to love people, and so they did their work admirably.

It’s our simple attempt to apply Matthew 6:42 – “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

I still have a lot of questions, but it’s a start.

photo credit: reluctant femme.com