Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was born into a respectable middle-class family in America. As she played with her barbie dolls and ran throughout the house in her princess costume, everyday she could see a bumper sticker sitting on her dad’s bookshelf which read, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Her dad thought it was humorous.
That little girl grew and was taught good things about life – like how to succeed in school and how to be a friend and how to dance. There were a lot of other things she was learning from other people – from the culture – even when she didn’t realize it. Like … the importance of buying a beautiful and expensive prom dress to impress friends. And that toys from last year are boring compared to this year’s version. That kids who live in the poor side of town are nice but you don’t want to hang out there. Like when you go out on the school’s dollar – or someone else’s business dollar – to take advantage of it and buy the most expensive meal possible. That home decor may still be useful, but after a few years the “look” is old and boring and the room needs something fresh. That the friends who download music and movies on computers illegally are not that bad. It’s like borrowing from the library, someone said. She was taught that the more money a person made, the more important they were. Nobody really said that, but the message was clear. She was taught to not be satisfied with what she had in her closet when there were so many pretty, shiny things at the store to purchase. She was taught to go to the mall when she was bored, to shop for sport. Of course, people didn’t say all those things outright. They said it with their actions.
Well, that little girl is me. And because I grew up in the church, I admit I heard other messages as well. Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you eat or wear.” The missionary asked us to give sacrificially for a good cause. The pastor told us to tithe 10 percent. They said we should give to others because God had already given us so much.
But I live in America. And the message to Pursue More! and to Be Discontent with What You Have! is so much louder than Jesus’ call to share our possessions. Am I the only one who feels this way?
When I was in 9th grade, I remember deciding I would just have to be a missionary to rural South America. I figured that was the only way I could escape the advertisements which claimed I was not complete until I had what they were offering, and television shows of people with fancy lifestyles, and the constant comparison between what I have and what others have. I knew I could not do it alone, and I decided that my whole community had to be poor so that I could be okay with being poor. I know this was a strange thought. I was a strange girl.
I ended up marrying a man who was not called to South America. I told him that I wanted to be poor. He thought that was funny. You see, I’ve never been very good about giving what I have, so I figured I should just be poor in the first place and then not worry about it. But then my husband kept getting these great jobs. And since the money was available to me anyway, I decided to go out to eat at nice restaurants instead of eat something simple at home. And I decided that I might as well use the money to do things I enjoy, like going on fancy trips.
The question of “What is enough?” has become “What is too much?” as I try to justify all the things that I own. I am not a generous person. And it makes me sick to think about it.
This Sunday, I have the opportunity to preach at my church. The chosen text is one about generosity. I believe I need the message more than anyone else who will be listening that day. If you’re interested in the sermon that comes out of all this, come back in a few days. I’ll post a link it the audio here.