One time, a few years ago, I said to my parents, “I hate money”.
Mom said, “Don’t you ever say that, ever again.”
I alluded to my relative poverty growing up in my last post.
One of the things that I really coveted as a kid were shoes. We were lucky if we got a new pair of sneakers for the new school year. The kool kicks during my elementary and junior high years were Keds. I think they’ve made a comeback in the last few years. I’ve recently seen people wear them around the city.
I always got the white canvas pair. I didn’t like colors (for fear of standing out) and preferred the classic look. The thing about white canvas is, no matter how clean I tried to keep them, they always got dirty within a month of buying them. It’s not like I was running around in the mud or doing anything that particularly attracted dirt, but alas, they got old-looking fast. And I had only this one pair to wear for maybe a year or more. I’d try to get the spots out to no avail. So for the rest of the school year, I had to wear these dirty, white canvas Keds. I tried not to draw attention to my feet. Or anything else, for that matter.
One time in 9th grade, we were sitting in concert band class. I played the flute and so did 2 of my good friends. We were joking around and laughing about something – I don’t actually remember what we were talking about – but someone said something that made all of us look down at our feet. My friends all had nice shoes on but it was about the middle of the school year, so my Keds were all beaten up and not pretty to look at. I distinctly remember all of us looking down, noticing my old shoes, and the awkward silence that followed. I was absolutely mortified and I tried to play it off by swinging my feet back and thankfully, class began soon thereafter.
Later on that year, my family moved to upstate New York (we’d been living in New Jersey) and one of my friends who saw my shoes that day gave me a going-away present. I opened the box to find a brand new pair of navy blue Pumas, which, by that time, had already become the new trend. (There was no way I was ever going to get Pumas, since they were about $20 more expensive than Keds back then.) I kept those Pumas in pristine condition and wore them until they could not be worn anymore. Years. Probably for the rest of high school.
Somewhere along the way, I made a promise to myself, unaware, that I would never be in that position ever again. Of having to wear old shoes. Having to buy clothes only once a year. Having to want what other people have. If I could help it, I was going to make it happen so that I didn’t have to worry about money. Ever, period.
Money doesn’t really let you have it your way, though. Or it’s just easier to say that.
For a long time, I was under the illusion that I had full control over money and its “power”. I went around telling people that because of the way I grew up, I wasn’t attached to things, that I didn’t need a lot of money and that if I could get rid of all my “stuff”, I would. I learned the art of generosity and gave away a lot. In fact, the more I earned, the more I gave away; and I’m gonna be honest. It felt good. It made me feel really good. Not necessarily because it was benefitting a lot of folks, but mostly because it made me feel like a good person. A good Christian. I mean, didn’t Jesus say that I need to love the least of these? Didn’t he say if I was feeding the hungry that I was feeding him? That if I gave to someone in need, that I was, in fact, giving to him? I found great charities to support. I gave to missionaries. I gave above and beyond the traditional tithe. Blah. Blah. Blah. Give me a trophy, shake my hand and let’s move on with our lives.
Actually, I take that last sentiment back. I do not want to diminish the act of giving. Sometimes, and for some people, the act of giving and the practice of generosity can be a powerful conduit of inward and outward transformation.
For me, however, more than anything, this is a heart issue. As much as I give away, I want that much more. When I see something that I like, I buy it. The poor kid inside me doesn’t let me buy anything overpriced, but I pretty much have everything that little girl could ever want and then some.
But I still want more.
I look around the apartment that I own and wonder how in the world I got here. It’s like I put those Pumas on and RAN. FAR. Totally in the other direction and I never looked back. I’ve been very good at keeping the promise I made to myself.
But something’s been happening to me these past few months… maybe years. Actually, let’s get real and call that something, God. He keeps bringing up the issue. I’m talking about the heart issue. He’s not leaving me alone about it and he hasn’t for the past 2 years. Continually. And it’s plastered all over the book of Matthew, which is all I’ve been reading for the past 2 years. I did well avoiding the issue for awhile but I’m not sure that I can anymore.
The main question that I keep asking myself is,
If I went up to Jesus, desperately wanting him (and I do), and I ask him what I have to do to follow him, and he tells me to give away EVERYTHING that I have, would I be willing and able to do that?
If I’m really, brutally honest with myself, my response, sadly, is “no”.
Is he asking me to do that? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. I’m not really “rich”, though compared with the rest of the world’s population, I am in the top 1% of the wealthiest in the world (and if you’re reading this from your own computer or smartphone, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say, so are you).
But does it matter that he’s not really asking me? My mere hypothetical answer already reveals so much about the condition of my heart. Am I really saying that my keyboard is more valuable to me than my pursuit of Jesus? Maybe. Am I saying that my apartment is worth more to me than him? Maybe. Does it have to be all or nothing like this? Maybe. Maybe not. Can’t I use this stuff in order to follow him and to lead others to him? Maybe. But maybe’s not good enough. Not to me.
I’m going to end this post with the same verse as the last one. I need this reminder. Every. Single. Day.
“The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22
Would you believe that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I actually wanted to write about in this post?