It seems we like to rent a cottage on a lake every year for summer vacation. Many would say that rental money is thrown away, but perhaps not in the grand scheme of a vacation. Certainly, ownership is the North American way. In Mordecai Richler’s novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the protagonist lives his whole life trying to prove his worth based on the assumption that “a man without land is nobody”. Why? Do we really own anything anyway? As Christians, we acknowledge that all gifts come from the Giver. Do we think about our spending spiritually? Like, what would the Creator the Universe spend his Toys’RUs gift certificate on? That question is rarely on my radar at the mall.
I was chatting with my dad last night, sitting in Muskoka chairs, looking out over Morrison Lake and waxing eloquent about what I would want in a cottage if I owned one. His striking comment was, “I’d have to go a long way to justify a cottage”. (This from a man who just bought a Mustang convertible, but I digress.) But do I need to own a cottage? Couldn’t I just rent every year and be thankful? Arguably, even the rental money could be used for better purposes. I really have trouble sorting out the complexities of cash flow. Do we actually do anything differently as Christians, other than tithe? I doubt most Christians even do that.
Our conversation turned to the abundance in North America and the glaring contrast between poverty and affluence. I was reminded (as I often am) of Richard Foster’s book The Freedom of Simplicity in which he suggests that we, as Christians, have the choice to live simply so that others may simply live.
What does financial simplicity actually look like, though? I often wonder how to process the use of money in our culture. I know we justify so many things that we don’t need and (if you want to get technical about it) those dollars could provide food for starving people – the cost of a Mustang could cover a lot of loaves and fishes.
Somehow, I don’t think it is a simple as that, though. I think we all need to wrestle with our riches. That’s right, if you ate today, you are rich by global standards and you will have to give an account for how you spend all of your resources, including your money. For me, that’s a sobering thought.
I remember Pastor Carey Nieuwhof sharing one approach to purchases which was to consider how they could be used for Kingdom purposes: could those extra spots in the vehicle allow you to provide needed rides? Could an extra bedroom in your house allow you to foster or adopt? Could your cottage be used to provide spiritual retreat to friends or family in need of rest? Essentially, you are asking are your purchases selfishly motivated? Most of mine are. Even those little ones that are seemingly harmless.
We buy things for our enjoyment. I don’t think that is entirely wrong, but how do we reconcile our spending with our faith? There are SO many ways we spend on really pointless things. (As an aside, I used to work with a teacher in Kingston that often expressed his concern for a world that paid good money for water and dirt!)
Hypothetically speaking, if I were to buy a cottage for my family, would I regret that expenditure at the end of my life in light of world poverty? Could that money have been put to better use? Arguably, yes. But so could the money I spent on shoes: many people don’t have even one pair and I have…well, several. Any purchase could be considered in light of its eternal value and cause us to be convicted about priorities. Store up treasures in heaven and all that.
A long time ago, our pastor asked each family to consider their mission as a family. After tossing some ideas around the dinner table, we decided that our mission was summed up in one word: share. I think there is something to the idea that we hold all that we have been given loosely, actively seeking ways to meet needs with our abundance. We are working on that principle of generosity in our family with more than just our money and possessions. We realize that we are to share our gifts and our compassion and our wisdom, too. But, even with those efforts, I feel like I have a lot to learn.
What principles do you apply when it comes to spending in your family? How do you deal with these tough questions from a spiritual perspective?