Friday, April 27, 2012

Wealth and understanding

Psalm 49:16-20 (NIV)

Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
   when the splendor of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
   their splendor will not descend with them.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
   and people praise you when you prosper—
they will join those who have gone before them,
   who will never again see the light of life.
People who have wealth but lack understanding
   are like the beasts that perish.
I consider myself incredibly blessed with my lot in life. Obviously I am thankful for my family and our good health, but I’m also aware of being comfortable financially in a time when so many are not. Comfort is a matter of perspective, of course. I am sure some folks who are better off would look at our bank account and be appalled. And it would be a lie to say I never look at the way others live with envy, for either their home or possessions or the freedom and resources to pursue passions.

Yet I try to remain an optimist. For one thing, I appreciate the blessings of my lifestyle — the short commute, the flexibility to be present for nearly everything my wife or kids might need and so on. Those lifestyles that may cause me to lapse into jealousy often include facets I would never desire. Sure, they may take a wonderful family vacation each June, but is Dad home for the bedtime routine every night?

On the other side, I’m wise enough to realize that as I might be envious of others, there are plenty of folks who would be thrilled to be in my position — full-time employment, two cars, house in the suburbs, no credit card balance. I try to be happy with what the Lord has provided and realize nothing I have is really my own anyway. Of course, I could and probably should spend a lot more time and energy doing an honest analysis of how I allocate my resources — not just money, but also time and attention. But goodness, that kind of introspection is challenging.

One of the passages from the April 26 lectionary was the Exodus account of the Ten Commandments. Reading them again, and in light of the Psalm I chose for this reflection, I am reminded of the trap I often fall into in terms of sin and how I perceive myself. It’s very easy to consider yourself a generally “good” person when you don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery. But if we are honest with ourselves about all sin, we need to look at what we covet, what we turn into idols, what lies we tell ourselves and others. Further, if we believe all sin is equal in God’s eyes, what good does it do us to be happy for another day without committing murder? The large majority of humans can handle that one, Christian or not.

I’m certainly not trying to single anyone out — other than myself. I know my general optimism and worldview can also allow me to mask the realities of how I fall short. I know just being a good person is a far cry from living a life of intention and striving to live as Jesus commanded. I know this because it’s how I operate, and it’s something I’d really like to change.

I like to think we’re doing a good job in this area with our kids. They have more toys than they need, but not as many as they’d like. They are not granted every indulgence. Some of this is accidental — Jack is fairly out of touch with what kids his age enjoy, so we are not in an arms race to collect every last action figure. All our kids are boys, and they wear whatever clothes we put out and never bother to look for a brand name or blush if something came from a garage sale. When you don’t spoil your kids, even a 99-cent Frosty from Wendy’s can seem like a priceless gift. I would say most of our close friends operate in similar fashion.

But are we — Kristie and I — really teaching them about value? Are we setting any sort of example about good priorities? Are we letting them know why we choose to go without certain things, or why we do choose to spend on the things we do buy? Are we, as the Psalmist alludes to, doing anything to link wealth and understanding?

At this point, I don’t think we really are. I’m not quite sure how to change that yet, but I suppose acknowledging the problem is a good place to start.

A prayer for April 27

Lord, I thank you for the countless good things in my life. I acknowledge that you are the God from whom all blessings flow and I am sorry for how rarely I turn those blessings into praise for your presence in my life. I ask you to help me teach my children about the real source of all that is good and to give them the life experiences that reveal to them how lucky they truly are — both for their lot in this life and for their Father in Heaven. The blessings of a healthy family and a steady job are nothing compared to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and every day I forget that truth is an affront to your grace. I thank you for everything I have that is considered wealth, and I yearn to have more true understanding. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful psalm to ponder, Scott. Your reflections are inspiring.