Thursday, August 25, 2011

money choices, part two

In my first post about money choices I talked about the effect of advertising in the US, the attitude of entitlement that dictates most financial decisions, and the need to be in relationship with those living in poverty.

It is sobering to stand at the top of a mountain and be surrounded by poverty as far as your eye can see.

This post I'm going to get more personal and try to answer Kristin's questions. Her questions/thoughts again were:
"How do you balance or come to terms with what is OK to have or spend money on and what is frivolous? It must be hard to live in a poor area without always feeling guilty about what you have. And it's easy to look at what others do and compare and say, 'well at least I'm not spending money on a face lift like that person' but if I spend $50 on a special night cream how is that any different? Same concept just smaller dollar figures."

As I said in my last post, we don't have any concrete guidelines for deciding how to spend our money. (This doesn't mean we don't have a budget. We do have a budget which serves as a strict guideline for how much money we spend each month. How we arrive at our budget each year, though, does not follow any set rules. We also withdraw the exact amount of our budgeted money every month and only use cash. This keeps me from being tempted to overspend.)

What has been instrumental in helping us balance how we spend our money is a major change we underwent about three years ago. Our financial plan used to be that we tithed ten percent and spent the rest of our money however we wanted. Easy, concrete answer for us on how to spend our money. As long as we were giving away ten percent, we could live however we wanted. And we did. If someone needed help financially, we could easily say, "We're so sorry, but we have already committed our ten percent of giving to other people/organizations/church." Our giving never interfered with our lifestyle. It never came with a sacrifice.

Slowly and painfully our eyes were opened to a different way of looking at giving. We started wondering if giving without sacrifice meant much to God. Or if God even intended for us to spend the majority of our money on ourselves. The more we read the Bible and the more we sought out God, the more we found that following God required a lot more of us physically, financially, and mentally then we were giving.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Romans 12:1-2

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Matthew 22:37-39

So, I stomped my feet and threw some fits. "But I'm too tired from raising four kids to get involved in a ministry right now. It always seems like people need my help when it's a hard (meaning inconvenient) time for me. Really, I just got all four kids to bed and now you want me to spend time with you, God? I love myself enough to make sure that I am always feed, clothed, and have a safe place to lay my head at night, but I don't really want to love others that way. Why do we have to give away money that Blake worked really hard for? I just really feel like you are requiring a lot of me, God."

It all felt like a punishment at first. Or some horrible list of steps I needed to complete in order to please God. Slowly and gently God broke down the walls I had built around my heart. My stubbornness, my greediness, my selfishness. When I allowed myself to be stripped of those inclinations I realized that sacrifice is not punishment. It is the result of an outpouring of love. It comes because my love for God is so deep and so real that I can't help but give him everything. It comes because I want to know God more. It comes because God commanded me to love others and has so filled my heart with his love that I can't help but share.

The next verse after Romans 12:1-2 (above) says:
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Good, pleasing, and perfect. Not punishing. And I think where we stand today is proof of that verse. If we had not turned this corner and begun to give ourselves, our desires, our entitlements, our money, our time over to God we would not be in Peru.

With the change in the way we viewed sacrifice, came a change in the way we spent money. Instead of tithing ten percent and calling it a day, we decided to live on as little as possible and give the rest of our money away. So then the question became, "How do we decide how much to live on?" It is very common for people to say, "It's different for everyone. Each person knows what they are comfortable spending on themselves." I like this answer in theory because I do believe that people should make their own decisions on how much to spend on themselves with prayer, humility, and love. Unfortunately, we are sinful people and it is not too hard to convince ourselves to be selfish. So I do not always trust my heart and I don't think other people should either.

Blake and I started by overhauling our budget together. And each year since we have overhauled our budget a little more to the point that we have cut
our spending on ourselves in half. This included cutting back on little things like utilities by not using our heat and air conditioning (now we're in Peru where we don't even have those luxuries). We have, by American standards, a very bare bones budget. But as Kristin mentioned, it is easy to only compare ourselves to those spending a lot of money so that we can feel better about ourselves. That is a huge advantage to living in a developing country. I am always having to compare myself to those living in poverty because I am surrounded by it. "Oh wow, you don't have heat or air conditioning. Well, I don't have a roof over my head." Yes, some days I feel guilty, but I don't mind guilt. Guilt keeps me in check.

The view from our grocery store's parking lot. Perspective every time we spend money on food.

Blake and I also keep each other in check, by calling each other out when we are clearly being selfish or just asking, "Have you thought about if you need to spend money on that?" It is now easier to talk myself out of spending money than into spending it.

Our old pastor used to talk about how people always wanted him to tell them where "the line" was. The line where doing certain things crossed over into sinful or wrong. His advice? It's not about the line. If you are really interested in following God, you don't want to know the line of how much you can get away with before getting in trouble. You run as far away from the line and as much towards God as you can! So, Blake and I don't worry about the line with money anymore. We don't try to spend as much as we can on ourselves while trying to also please God. We try to run away from spending money on ourselves and then enjoy the times we do feel comfortable indulging ourselves. We also know a lot of people doing this whole living simply, giving away more money thing much better than us. We feel like babies in this whole process, learning new things everyday.

It is painful at times to say no to the things we want. We can get jealous of others or want our old life back. But, overall, it is so good. It has only brought us into deeper relationship with God and made us more dependent on him. There is freedom in relaxing our grip on our finances. Our hearts are changed when we stop expecting to get everything that we want. There is so much beauty in giving money away, especially sacrificially. The month we ate rice and beans forever changed our family. Once we started giving our money away out of love and saw the effect on our hearts and the hearts of those on the receiving end, we knew we could never turn back.

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