Category Archives: Personal Growth

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

Our Identities As Mothers

As a culture we tend to categorize people with certain callings into different identities. It’s like we have different archetypes represented in different vocations. It looks something like, “If you’re a lawyer, then you’re a greedy, suit-wearing white man” or “if you’re a nun, then you’re a nice, habit wearing old lady”. I think it can be hard for people to separate their identities from the culturally prescribed archetype. It takes an ego strength, a self-knowledge, to live outside the rigid categories we think we should fit in.

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In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, she dismisses the cultural archetype of the tortured artist. She exhorts artists to stop identifying with their suffering, and instead to look past it to live in the joy of their vocation. If artists don’t allow their creativity to be joyful, then they will almost resent the calling to be artists – their visceral need to create – and live their lives self-medicating their resentment.

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There is a parallel in the cultural identity of the “tortured mother” – or maybe the “overwhelmed mother” is more precise. The overwhelmed mother cannot keep all the moving parts together, her house is a mess, her children out of control, dinner not remotely nutritious. Desperation is lurking beneath each mess, each outburst, and each demand of the child. No one can possibly understand how hard her life is, and if someone acknowledges it, they are only saying the popular thing to say: “Mother’s do the hardest work.” She resents everyone for either not understanding, for not helping, or for failing to rescue her. By clinging to this self-pity, she at least gets to bolster herself in a way that assuages her loneliness and desire to be notable, beautiful, or understood.

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Sometimes I cling to the identity of the overwhelmed mother because of the nourishment it provides my self-pity. It can be hard to separate myself from that identity because sometimes that is what my life looks like. Of course mothering is hard work; of course, at times, we resent the sacrifice required, but that doesn’t mean we have to go about our lives seeking recognition as martyrs.

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The other woman, the one I aspire to be, is a beautiful, carefree mother. She doesn’t take every little mess or disobedience too seriously; she’s not threatened by the chaos. I’m not sure she really exists in pure form because that person doesn’t have any cracks. She cannot be undone – and I’m not sure you can be a human without any cracks. But this isn’t an “either/or” situation. I can be both. In truth, life can be hard and I get overwhelmed. But after a good night’s sleep sometimes I am the carefree mother, clothes unstained by spit up and yogurt, dress blowing in the breeze. We have to allow ourselves to be complex people – I am both women and more. Yes, sometimes the chaos threatens to undo me, but more often the chaos is a reflection of the beautiful vocation of motherhood, and the life I get to live.

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?

10 Splendid Life Truths Of Motherhood

At the suggestion of Gretchen Rubin, I wrote down the motherhood version of my splendid life truths. They are more a reminder for me than anything, but I thought I would share. Enjoy!

1. Go slow. Rushing helps no one.

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2. The schedule is serving you, you are not serving the schedule.

3. Self-care is as important as child-care.

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4. Figure out what works for you and your family. Let go of thinking everything must be perfect or how you expected it. My house will be cluttered with toys, everything will not be homemade, and I will not always feel gracious. I will love and seek forgiveness and grace, I will offer understanding and grace in return.
5. Everything takes longer. Just expect it.

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6. My kids don’t have to be perfectly behaved or dressed all the time to mean I’m a good mom. My concern over the appearance of my fitness as a mother is generally an expression of vanity.

7. The whole family will benefit from me finding an outlet I am passionate about and being willing to spend some of my time on that. My kids are better off without 100% of my attention and it helps me trend in the direction of sanity.

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8. There will be trade offs in order to spend time on something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t all have to fit perfect.

9. Children are people. They are not behaviors to be managed, inconveniences to be distracted, or unsophisticated tag alongs. When I treat them as the beautiful human beings they are everyone is a little better off.

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10. It’s ok that it feels really hard sometimes. Sometimes there’s an incline that we don’t perceive until we reach the top, and then it all makes sense that it was hard. We were climbing a mountain without realizing it.