I’ve been thinking a lot about the American Dream. I feel like, from a young age, I’ve been taught to appreciate the American Dream but to not place too much value upon it. How many times in Sunday School did I hear that money is the root of all evil? Or that we, as Christ followers, are to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth. This is all well and good, until you grow up and realize that not everyone in your life believes as you do, or interprets that to mean the same as you do. It is common knowledge that most of the US population (meaning you and me) is amongst the richest 10% in the world. That’s a perspective shift, for sure, but that does nothing for you emotionally when you are dealing with the Joneses who live just down the street from you and are actually in the top 9% of the wealthiest in the world.
Feelings of inadequacy give root to jealousy which gives root to bitterness and before you know it, you might actually find yourself attacking those who you love the dearest because their fortunes are different than your own….quite literally. Money is never a fun topic to talk about and polite conversation usually avoids it but as I grow older and my relationships mature I’ve begun to realize that money is an unavoidable topic. It surfaces in friendships in something as simple as a discussion about which restaurant to choose for lunch or which hotel to stay at on a vacation or which stores you shop at for clothing. All of these little decisions we make in life begin to speak about our financial situations louder than our bank accounts do. And they begin to divide us. Given my above statement about insecurity and jealousy and bitterness, it is no surprise that friend groups tend to be of the same financial bracket. Nobody likes to be reminded of how little money they actually have. And so we begin to gravitate towards people who will choose the same restaurants as us and recommend the same hotels and shop at the same stores as we do. People in our same tax bracket don’t intimidate us and they don’t cause us to question our life decisions or financial planning, or lack thereof. But when we allow money to dictate our relationships, we’ve lost something. We have lost the ability to strive to live in a spirit of contentedness.
Notice I said “strive” because these days I am realizing that contentedness is nothing short of a grueling, seemingly never ending marathon. With each mile we pass, we feel achievement and pride at surviving that mile but that doesn’t make the next mile any easier. I think until recently I believed that contentedness was something that you achieved, like a scout badge of honor you receive after hours of grueling practice. Or maybe I thought it was more like a habit that you conquer, if you do it over and over again, it one day comes to you naturally. And perhaps I haven’t lived long enough to actually prove the latter theory wrong, but so far, I haven’t been able to make contentedness a habit…and I’m a pretty good habit maker. When we strive to be content with our finances, with the money that God has entrusted to us and us alone, we take all of the other players off the table and we turn the eye of scrutiny on ourselves. The question goes from being one of accusation and bitterness aimed at those more fortunate than ourselves and becomes one of intense scrutiny aimed inwardly as we ask, “Am I being a good steward of what I have been given?”
“Where your heart is, there you will also find your treasure.” This verse has always slightly mystified me and, I’ll be honest, for some reason always conjures up a world of pirates in my mind. But recently I heard this verse put another way: “If you want to know where your heart really is, look at where your money (or treasure) is going.” It’s like a reverse treasure hunt (cue the pirates). Start with the treasure and retrace your steps to find what actually motivates you to find that treasure. For me this practice is one of discipline and is becoming a litmus test of what I do with my treasure. For example, if I re-trace my steps I often come to see that a good bit of my treasure gets spent on food (I blame this mostly on my best friend, Jordan, with whom my relationship largely revolves around the consumption of food). And most of the time, I am ok with that treasure being spent on food. Why? Because most of the time, I am really spending my treasure on relationships. I am going to lunch with dear friends or I am cooking meals to be enjoyed at a long and leisurely paced dinner with people that I greatly love and just as greatly need in my life. But sometimes, when the scales get tipped, I start to see my treasure being spent on solo trips through the Chicfila drive thru or late night pizza when Greg is out late. For me, personally, when I start taking relationships and people out of my treasure spending, I begin to slip in my standing as a good steward.
The point is, what we do with our treasure, where our hearts really lie, is a personal issue. It is not my job to police what those in my life do with their treasure. Their hearts are their own to police. It is also not in my best interest to stick to relationships that make me feel secure in what I have been given. It is impossible to practice contentedness when your life is full of likeminded, same tax bracketed people. Money complicates relationships, there is no denying that, but it should never dictate the people that you choose to do life with. Because in the end, the Sunday School lessons were right. Treasure is fleeting. Relationships can be forged to stand the test of time…and the number of placeholders on a paycheck.
PS: This little felt treasure map at the top of this post is pretty freaking adorable, huh? My good friends at White and Whimsy have this little nugget and so many more adorable felt toys for kids in their Etsy shop. Go check them out!