Category Archives: Christianity

Scarcity and Abundance: Money, and other things

I have long struggled with the Gospel teachings on money, and I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what formula to use to handle money the right way. Sometimes it seems that we’re called to live without any possessions or money, but then I would wonder – if God was asking us all to live in poverty, how would the world work? How would we have children and jobs, food and shelter? I do think he asks some of us to live in voluntary poverty, but I don’t necessarily think that God’s economy is one in which we are all impoverished. However, I do think that if we’re following Christ authentically, it won’t lead us into a life where stuff is the focus of our existence.

On the spectrum of money, most of us perceive ourselves our to be somewhere in the middle: we’re not wealthy, but we’re not poor. Although many of our perceptions are skewed, and many of us who perceive ourselves to be middle class may actually be wealthy, a large portion of approaching money in a healthy way is assessing our perception about how much we have. Most of us think, if we were actually wealthy, we wouldn’t have to worry about money. But many wealthy people become so obsessed in the pursuit of money that they are still worried about it – keeping or losing it, having enough for their increased needs and hedonistic adaption.

We want to be free from worry about money, but feel we need lots of it in order to have peace. Or, if we don’t have enough, we may be consumed with worry over how to get more, how to keep some for ourselves, and what we would buy if we had some. I think our perception about how much money we have is almost more important than how much money we actually have because it determines our attitude about money. Perceptions can be skewed, we may have plenty but feel we need more – meaning we have a scarcity mindset. But I believe we are called to live from an abundance mindset – “as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” If we perceive the abundance of God, then our perceptions will be different – we may not see the abundance, but we have faith that it is there. How do we live with money -not materialistically but not overly obsessive, not in denial of our spending but not hyper aware of money?

I used to think the best way to approach money was to have as few needs as possible. I thought if I didn’t need much, never bought anything new, tried not to drive my car, never did anything fun and kept an obsessive budget then I was living how he wanted me to. I wasn’t being a “rich” person; I was using my money “wisely” and trying to never “waste” a cent. It was borderline obsessive and mentally unsustainable. I started realizing that not even poor people lived like that (although I believed that they should so that they wouldn’t be poor).I felt like I couldn’t move, couldn’t have fun.

You see, I can’t get my head straight about money. I was riding my bike in the heat of summer pulling my infant in a bike trailer to save .60 on gas, and the next day buying myself a $4 cup of coffee. I was obsessive on one day, and excessive the next. Heather King talks about this phenomenon in her book, Loaded, where she writes on her own disordered money issues and how she was a chronic under earner and underspender. She brings up an interesting point – that we all think in black and white when it comes to money, and for those of us who only know how to live as if we don’t deserve anything, that can be a problem. She explains that we have to get honest and come out of denial about our spending – be clear about how much is coming in and how much is coming out. But also learn to provide for ourselves when necessary. Don’t dissociate when you buy yourself something; don’t live in denial that you need something.

Our families influence our fears and patterns when it comes to money, and as we venture out into adulthood we have to reconcile all these fears with our own materialism and greed, and the gospel teachings. It’s all a bit confusing, and I would find myself just giving up and spending money excessively and then making up for it in stupid little ways. Its all a little too reminiscent of my relationship with food. All these things in life we end up using in ways that they aren’t meant to be used. Whether it’s food, money, alcohol, love – there’s a certain detachment that’s necessary in order to have our lives appropriately ordered. It’s not about having nothing, it’s about having everything without anxiety. God will be enough; God will provide. Heather King calls this the spirituality of enough.

The things is, even when I was spending way too much money on clothes and shoes, I was consumed with finding the next new thing, or finding the perfect purse. Living in excess or having too much money isn’t the panacea most of us fantasize about – it just leads to a whole other kind of anxiety. At least having less money is simpler in that way. When I had no money, I didn’t even think about what I was going to buy because I couldn’t.

When it comes to specifics I would guess that God has different calls on each of us. But, I’m starting to understand that approaching money from a gospel standpoint is more about how we approach God in general. We are asked to have an attitude of trust in the abundance of God, not a white knuckled fear of the scarcity of the world.

I don’t think we’re ever given a formula for the Spiritual life, and especially about money because that would miss the whole point. If I had a formula for how I was supposed to handle money then, conscientious as I am, would go off on my own and fulfill my obligation in isolation from God and others. My life would just be a series of transactions between duty and God. A formulaic model doesn’t invite relationship, mystery, or community into our lives. If I had it my way that’s how life would look – hyper-efficient, sterile, and controlled. I do what I want so long as I check the boxes.

In contrast to my vision for the world, the whole Gospel message is one of interdependence. God wants us to work with Him. That’s what he asked in Eden “subdue the land and animals”, in the desert “I will give you the land if you trust me”, in the New Covenant “eat my body, drink my blood”. He doesn’t just come rescue us without our participation, because what’s the point if our hearts don’t change? If we don’t change then we’ll never see things as they really are – we won’t love in truth, we won’t have faith in the goodness of God, we won’t hope in the beauty of eternity.

In every area of our lives God asks us to live inter-dependently with Him. It’s not so much that he wants us to have nothing (although maybe He does ask that of some of us) but that he wants us to trust Him to take care of us. He doesn’t want us to go off on our own and turn our backs on Him – he wants us to see that if we would loosen our grip on our stuff and our accounts, then he would just give us what we need. Sometimes that means letting go of our fear and spending, sometimes it means selling everything we own to give to the poor, and sometimes it means trusting that God will provide. In whatever situation you find yourself, when you trust in God’s abundance, there will always be enough.

Most of all we’re asked to have a heart that is not consumed with money, whether there is a surplus or a deficit. Being detached from preoccupation with money is distinct from pretending we don’t have needs or living in excess of our true needs. We’re not necessarily called to be ascetics, we’re just asked to have enough detachment from things of the world to be able to trust our needs to God and share with one another.

We ask for what we need, and God either provides it or gives us the grace to adjust to life without it (King, 2016). My mantra has become “there will be enough”. There will be enough – money, food, time. There will be enough emotional energy to have patience with my children. There will be enough of me to be a loving wife. There will be enough time to take it slow, to rest at the appropriate times. There will be enough energy to do one more load of laundry and to prep dinner. I have found that although I say I’m a Christian, my faith tends to reveal a belief in scarcity more than God’s abundance. I especially tend to veer into an emotional scarcity model – I don’t believe there’s enough, so I hoard whatever is left for myself in the name of sanity and respond harshly to my kids because “I’m just done”. How could I forget the parable of the five loaves? I think I don’t have enough energy left to be kind and patient, but I haven’t even asked for help. I haven’t even tried to have faith that God could supply me the energy I need. I tell God I can’t exercise patience and kindness, or any of the other ways love is operationalized, because there is just not enough of me.

But when I take an attitude of “there is enough” emotionally, and trust God first that he will provide the grace for me to be who I am supposed to be, then there is always enough. In fact, I find that I am overflowing with peace and joy, and that life wasn’t so dark as I thought it was when I presumed that emotional scarcity was truer than God’s graceful abundance.

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”IMG_2022

Loving The Questions

When I can’t pin down, categorize, and name an interior struggle I tend to oversimplify it. Or I pretend it’s not there and that I’m just complaining and need to be more grateful. I think sometimes as we pursue the spiritual life we have to allow our struggles to exist without needing to conceptualize them, trusting they have a purpose. I’m not saying we should despair or give in to things that harm us, just that sometimes there is a purpose to our struggles that we cannot know yet.

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“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

There has been a certain aridity in my life the past few years, one that I’ve tried to pin down as my own lack of effort, my own straying, or my own poor decision making. Sure, those things exist, but perhaps something deeper is going on. I can’t quite grasp it now, but I feel it. And I’m trusting God that it’s Him, and that He’s keeping me here for a reason, and that although it feels uncomfortable and I’d like some consolation, I can wait in this tension. Sometimes we give ourselves superficial consolation by assigning triviality to a struggle we cannot understand. We tell ourselves “It’s not a big deal”, or, “I’m just tired”, or “it’s just hard to be a mom/work full time/single/married”. Our struggles aren’t trivial; but without some way to categorize them it can feel like there’s nothing to grasp onto. Without naming the struggle it feels like we’re making it up.

“Once we have become acclimated to the liberating role of boredom in our prayer life, indeed come to prefer this desert over the fleshpot of religious experience, as our prayer life may once have been, there is yet more freeing up and deepening that the practice of contemplation will continue to do. But we may well not see this deepening; more likely we see our prayer life crumbling, yet all the while there is a deepening taking place as we are exposed to things within ourselves that we would rather not see, but need to see.” (Martin Laird)

I’m wondering if I need to learn to live through this, taking every little glimmer of beauty as my portion for the day and letting that be enough. Today it was the new leaf buds on the tree that over hangs our back yard, illuminated by the sunlight as I looked out the window. The beauty caught me off guard. For now it is these graces that sustain me.

Lenten Sacrifices

I gave up chocolate for Lent. I know, I know – it doesn’t get more cliche than that. But hear me out: chocolate is not just a daily ritual, for me it’s more like an hourly ritual. I cannot remember a day without chocolate. That’s just how entrenched my chocolate ritual is. So this is a big sacrifice. A cliche, albeit big sacrifice; a constant reminder that I need to pray for help.

But I’ve been thinking about a few other patterns that may need changing. I’ve been thinking that the cross I need to take up is cheerfulness. I’m not the most morose person ever, just often unwilling to let go of my miseries, my deep thinking, my spiritual groveling to be cheerful around others. Perhaps now more than ever, as we’re fasting, we need to choose cheerfulness for ourselves.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

At least I know I do. It doesn’t have to be overbearing bubbliness – just a lighthearted cheer – a way for others not to have to walk on eggshells, to worry about your sanity, to carry your load. When I am in a bad mood and my husband is joyful and lighthearted, it helps me break out my self-imposed misery. It is such a blessing to me when others are cheerful, so perhaps this lent I’ll choose the way of cheerfulness.

What are your Lenten practices?

The Year Of Trusting Myself

I’ve decided to steal the idea of having a theme for the year. I used to think that trusting myself and trusting God were mutually exclusive, but I’m learning that that’s not necessarily true. Henri Nouwen says, “Many spiritual writers speak about the body as if it cannot be trusted. This might be true if your body has not come home. But once you have brought your body home, once it is an integral part of yourself, you can trust it and listen to its language.” I think that he means we can listen to our intuition and live fully integrated. A lot of times we think we should only approach life from a purely logical angle, but our bodies and brains have a lot more to offer us than just logic. Logic and intuition are meant to be used in conjunction.

When we start seeing that our bodies are not separate from ourselves and stop living in such a dichotomous haze, we can allow our body and brain to work together. It’s part of the work of integration that is so crucial to our mental and physical health. The Catholic Church has a high doctrine of the body, which is why she teaches us to respect life in ourselves and others in various ways . It’s part of why we have such a complicated relationship with food – we try to master it and reduce it to “fuel”, but isn’t it so much more?

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I want to remember more that the physical and spiritual intersect. And this is why I want to learn to trust myself more. I think in carefully learning to trust my body and my heart I can move forward. For so long I’ve been going the way I thought I was supposed to go, not listening to myself or God, and as a result I’ve been moving laterally instead of forward. I’d like my life to reflect inner values that “spark joy” (Marie Kondo) and exclaim “hell yeah” (Greg McKeown), rather than “I might need this someday” or “this is pretty good”.

I’ve narrowed down the ways I want to trust myself more this year:

1.Honoring my creativity. The biggest way I can honor creativity is to allow myself the time for what feels superfluous – writing. This also means being open to changing the structure of my daily routine in order to allow time for writing. I have an obsessive need to clean the house whenever my children are gone. In this precious, quiet, block of time, I frantically run around the house picking up toys and doing dishes instead of writing. It’s classic reactive living instead of proactive living, and it has to change.

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2) Embracing simply, daily structure. If I’m going to live more creatively, I also need to have a path roped off in order to stay on track. I’ve been fighting structure my whole life, but now that it’s not being imposed upon me I realized without it I feel totally lost.  People in religious life often have  a “rule of life”, which is a daily routine or structure that is lived out as an act of obedience. I’ve been inspired to create my own rule of life, and was inspired by the Missionaries of Charity schedule (see Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog post about it here). The genius of this schedule is that it’s simple, allows margin in the day and takes into account basic life needs.  See this book for more about creating your own rule.

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3) Listening to my body. I always want to make food issues about self-discipline. Of course self-control is a virtue, but there’s more to this story, isn’t there?  For as long as I can remember I’ve pushed off my hunger early in the day, but end up over-eating in the afternoon and evening. I always end up beating myself up about not having self-control, but it finally occurred to me that I needed to trust those hunger cues earlier so that I don’t have the overwhelming hunger later. In other words, I need to let go and trust my body. I’m trying to stop thinking of food and weight issues from a shameful perspective, which sounds something like “you know better than to eat that right now”. I’m starting to challenge those voices and figure out why those behaviors are there in the first place. Maybe there’s a reason I’m eating this way, and I’m open to finding out what that is.

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4)Trusting to my instincts. This is probably the biggest thing. I’ve been listening to other’s ideas of what I should be doing and who I should be for my. entire. life. Maybe it’s part of growing up, but I’m ready to just be me and do what works for me. It may not look cool or successful , but I don’t care anymore. I’m ready to boldly wear lipstick and stop beating myself up about my failures and move in the direction of taking risks I’m excited about.  I’m ready to be honest with myself and others, to be a friend who is transparent and a mother who apologizes when she makes mistakes, and a wife who is willing to share her whole life.

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Again, Henri Nouwen writes, “You have to trust the inner voice that shows the way. You know that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. Thus you become entangled in countless often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lose touch with the God in you…Only by attending constantly to the inner voice can you be converted to a new life of freedom and joy.”

Breaking and Giving Thanks

I love it when something clicks. A lot of times in my spiritual life  I can know something to be true, but it takes a while for my heart to catch up. When I’m on the precipice of insight I have to keep waiting, praying, and pursuing it, and then suddenly it clicks. I really get it.

All this rejoicing and gratefulness that is asked of us starts making sense when I let go of the things I use to distract myself from feeling empty. Before, I didn’t trust God to be enough to fill me because I wasn’t letting God fill my moments. Now I see that when I lay down the distractions and the co-dependence and the coping mechanisms, I don’t have to despair at the emptiness I find without them.

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We wonder what will happen if we choose to live life differently, that is, to lay down our self-protective weapons. What if we chose to start loving in a costly way? What if we chose to thank God for a difficult situation, embracing the mystery of life? What if we chose to have times of silence where we let go of controlling our feelings and just allowed ourselves to be with God?

Ann Voskamp says “You don’t have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you only have to pull close.”

When I’m tempted to either wither in despair or flex my muscle of self-sufficiency,  because my life has been a dizzying relay between the two poles, I now know I don’t have to do either. When I lay it all down and meet my emptiness once again, I remember: give thanks always. And suddenly God is everywhere.

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Heather King writes in Shirt of Flame, “This movement from the immature, fretful craving to have things the way we want them, to the way that is patient, cheerful, nonobtrusive, and oriented towards others is a true death: the death of our egos, the death of our identities as people who respond – can only respond – a certain way. Grace is needed, to be sure, but preparing the ground for continuing grace requires prayer, meditation, and consenting to the long, hard work of pruning our will in such a way that we are open to maturity.”

And so it is a very difficult movement. This is the life-giving, redemptive death – the death of my will, of the self that wants to latch onto some misery that benefits me in some way. When I cannot either latch onto that misery or that fierce self-sufficiency I feel lost in a way that terrifies me. Who am I if I’m not either melancholic or powerful? But there is more to us and more for us.

036In between those poles of despair and self-sufficiency, where we find nothing to grasp onto, is where we can latch onto God. When you’re simply still you don’t have to play the drama queen and you don’t have to pretend you’re strong. Ann Voskamp points out that Jesus always gave thanks first and then broke the bread. And so give thanks, and let yourself be broken.  And while you’re there, thank Him for your coffee and the sunshine and the flower and the breeze and your friend and the woman who smiled at you. But also thank him for the difficult family member, the heartbreak, the dead end job, the rain, and the lost feeling that’s been stalking you most of your life.And there you’ll find sweet Jesus was there all along, waiting for you to give Him a chance.

 “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18