Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sometimes I Worry About Money

ALERT: That may be the understatement of the century. I think about the green every day. I have to log in to my bank account regularly to make sure there aren't any "surprises." Most of my friends are probably unaware that every time we do things together, I am inwardly subtracting the cost of our pleasures from my current funds.

I think this may come with the territory of being a 20-something, but regardless of the fact it's very frustrating and imprisoning.

It's frustrating because I can't seem to make myself stop thinking or obsessing about it.

It's frustrating because I have to stay so focused on it in order to make all my bill payments.

It's frustrating because I see in myself a hunger for money and possessions that makes me feel like a kindred of Gollum's.

Never really realized how many things I feel entitled to until I had to swallow the hard reality that in order to be really responsible, I have to cut those entitlements out. There is a lot of potential for peace here, because the less I try to spend my money, the less internal math I am doing while I am supposed to be listening to you tell me about what's going on recently in your life.

The ugliest part of my money worries is that I don't even recognize how MUCH I am able to have and purchase and pay for in full that the majority of the people in the world do not have. Mine is a rare life of luxury for a woman, and sometimes I know this but sometimes it doesn't sink in.

Sunday or someday I was throwing myself into a terrible rollercoaster of feelings. I was trying to get ready to go somewhere and I couldn't figure out what to wear. Everything I put on made me feel uglier than the last thing. There were many things that already looked so ugly on the hanger that I wasn't even going to try them. I felt so sickly miserable inside that I couldn't just feel pretty. Then I embarked on the Shame Spiral for being such a shallow creature in the first place that I was ungrateful for the wealth I experience with so much poverty around me. I tormented myself with that thought for awhile and then I realized that it wasn't really helping me feel less sickly miserable about not feeling pretty in the first place, so I ended the session feeling sickly miserably shamefully tormented. Such grace!
* * * *
Sometimes I tell myself and other people that I really want to help people who have less than I do. This is really true, but it's hard to do from the position that I'm in right now, because basically I'm just keeping my life afloat and I don't have too many extras for helping others keep their lives afloat. My mom and I were talking about Bono and U2 the other day, and the fact that Bono has actually accomplished a lot of good things in the world, but that he's really only able to do that because he's so famous and has made a lot of money being in a rock-and-roll band for the first 20 years of his adult life. Bono and a couple of the other guys in the band dropped out of the band for a little while (after making a couple of really great records) because they found Jesus and they were afraid Jesus didn't really approve of rock-and-roll. Eventually they got over that and I think even later they realized that maybe Jesus was giving them a successful rock-and-roll band so they could be His hands and feet in the world -- without even being priests or missionaries and without looking all that moralistic or spiritual. This is truly inspiring to me.

I am wondering if sometimes guilt about materialism and greed gets in the way of Christians learning how to do good in the world of commerce -- not so that we can live the high life, but so that we can play a part in sharing Abundant Life with others. Ugly truth though it is, Money is necessary for many of the projects that create change and improve the living conditions of the suffering lost souls in the world. I'm not sure how I fit into this presently, because I have a job that isn't making me a lot of extra money but that really focuses on appearances (so there is a lot of pressure to spend money on your outward appearance in order to feel like you're going to be more successful and have a better reputation). I don't really have a conclusion to the discomfort I feel about this. I have to make money somehow. I guess I just get to learn a lot about resisting shallow pressure and the fear of what people think of me. There has to be more to success than appearances, and shame on me if I buy in to the belief that true success is really just on the surface.

Lily Allen has a lyric in her new single that cuts to the quick of me:
I am weapon of massive consumption
It's not my fault - it's how I'm programmed to function
I look at the sun then I look in the mirror
We're on the right track, yeah we're on to a winner.

It's true! So I am commiting myself to a reprogramming. I am commiting to having my thoughts about money taken captive to Christ, the best philanthropist who's ever lived. If I really want my money to be involved in the work of Christ, I have to give it all to Him, and acknowledge the fact that the earth is the Lord's and everything in it, even every dollar bill! The book I've been reading, Blue Like Jazz, contains a passage that inspires me on the topic, and I'm going to try to adopt some of the principles Don Miller suggests. This is all I have to say on the subject right now. What follows is an excerpt of what he has to say on the subject, in case it should encourage you.
* * * *
"I am not giving any money to the church, Rick. Not a dime."
"Okay," he said. "Interesting way to change the conversation. Why?" he asked. "Why aren't you giving any money to the church?"
"Because I don't have any money. Everything goes to rent and groceries."
"That sounds like a tough situation," he said, very compassionately.
"So am I exempt?" I asked.
"Nope," he said. "We want your cash."
"How much?" I asked.
"How much do you make?"
"I don't know. About a thousand a month, maybe."
"Then we want a hundred. And you should also know how much you make. Part of the benefit of giving a portion of your money is it makes you think about where your money goes. God does not want us to be sloppy with our finances, Don."
"But I need money for rent."
"You also need to trust God."
"I know. I just think it would be easier to trust God if I had extra money to trust Him with."
"That would not be faith then, would it?"
"Well, bud, I just want you to know I hate this part of the job, 'cause it sounds like I am asking for your money. I don't care whether or not we have your money. Our needs are met. I want to tell you that you are missing out on so much, Don."
"So much what?"
"The fruit of obedience," he said, looking very pastoral. "When we do what God wants us to do, we are blessed, we are spiritually healthy. God wants us to give a portion of our money to His work on earth. By setting aside money from every check, you are trusting God to provide. He wants you to get over that fear---that fear of trusting Him. It is a scary place, but that is where you have to go as a follower of Christ. there are times when my wife and I don't have enough money to cover bills, but we know the first bill, the first payment we make, is to the church. That is the most important. If the other bills get neglected, then we need to watch how we are spending money. And there are times when we have found ourselves in that situation. But it works out. We are getting good at trusting God, and we are getting good at managing money."

Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.