Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have too much money.

"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:12-13)

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)

On Wednesday, I found out that I would be making $3000 less at my two jobs this summer than I had originally thought, due to misunderstandings and cutbacks. God was gracious, because He also gave me overwhelmingly fulfilling experiences that day, confirming that I'm working where He wants me to work. I went home and looked at my bank account and budget. I saw that I'd still have enough to get through my last semester of school, but I wouldn't have much money going into 2010. I had wanted to save up some money for next year, because I plan on continuing my non-profit and pastoral work in the Downtown Eastside, the poorest neighborhood in Canada, likely without a very stable income.

I let this stew in my brain for a while, alternately worrying and pushing worries out of my mind. But on Friday morning, while I was reading a Psalm that had nothing to do with money, everything changed. Out of the blue, this thought ran through my head: "You have too much money." And then this: "You don't need to make more money - in fact, you need to get rid of more."

These ideas definitely didn't come from me, because I had been thinking the exact opposite. I think God was trying to show me that in my worrying, I'd been buying into the same old myth: that my security was in my savings.

I think we all know that money is not bad in and of itself, but it sure can tempt us: greed, over-spending, stinginess, failing to tithe, frivolousness, avarice. I consider myself a pretty generous person, I hate shopping, and I probably err on the side of under-spending rather than over-spending. But like most North Americans, I succumb constantly to a far more subtle and sinister temptation: to treat money as my safety blanket, maybe even my savior, and to depend on money for future well-being rather than on the God who sustains my life.

Maybe it takes is a recession for me and many others to recognize the folly of so-called "financial security." Maybe as investments depreciate, as the money we buried in the bank accounts loses its value, we will realize that we need something (Someone) far more secure and unchanging to depend on, and we'll start throwing the weight of our future plans and hopes on Him. Maybe we'll realize that everything we have is on loan to us, and we'll start being more thankful for it and open-handed with it. Maybe we'll learn Paul's secret for living in plenty or in want, and we'll actually thank God for the recession! As Wendell Berry puts it, "When I hear the stock market has fallen, I say 'Long live gravity! Long live stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces of fantasy capitalism!'"

Before you think I've become a communist, or St. Francis (though I'm not sure they're such bad things to be), I will clarify one thing: I don't think it's wrong or sinful to save money. I'm just realizing that the majority of people on this planet don't even have the privilege to save money. I think God calls us to wisely use the resources He's given us in North America, and sometimes this means saving, but probably it means giving more often than we think. When I was a kid, my parents saved money that enabled my siblings and I to study at university, and I'm grateful for that. Now, my parents may be moving to Kenya, and I'd like to start saving money so I can fly to visit them. But if I start clinging and worrying and depending on money to get me to Kenya instead of the God who wants both to reunite families and to teach me to trust Him, I've slipped again.

My friend Joyce says that if we buy something, we should be willing to redistribute it to someone who needs it more than us, if God asks us to do so - after all, it doesn't really belong to us; it belongs to God, and God may want to challenge how much we really believe this. I think the same applies to our savings - if God wants us to use our money in a different way than we had planned, or if He wants to challenge our dependence on our savings, to challenge us to live more simply, then we need to listen and welcome His guidance. I can't assume He's saying the same thing to you as He's saying to me, I can only tell you my story.

I've talked to some friends and co-workers in non-profit and pastoral work who have had to live far closer to broke than I ever have, and they have such amazing stories of how God was faithful to provide for them when they needed it, and He often used strange and unexpected means. Their faith increased because it was tested, because they clung to the God who provides. At first, I saw this as irresponsibility - maybe they should have saved more so they wouldn't have to ask so much of God. Now, I crave these same chances to learn and grow in faith.

So I'm thinking about getting rid of some of this money, before it whispers to me yet again and convinces me that it can secure my future. Anyone need any money?


Santosh said...

I had coffee with a pastor this week whose church had a $600 000 surplus last year. I asked him what they did with it. He said they gave it away - They didn't back any of it.

They gave to a variety of ministries, a seminary in Africa, a church that needed a youth pastor but couldn't afford one - they're paying his salary for the next 3 years!

I loved this post - I don't make a lot of money, but I find it hard to kick against the goads of consumerism that exist in my heart.

Lynn said...

I love this post too. I don't spend much, but I fall into the trap of thinking that savings are my "security" when only God is. It's tough. Lynn