Saturday, November 10, 2012
I've been sowing seeds of discontentment. Do you know what grows when you plant discontentment? It ain't pretty.
It started several weeks ago. I went to a friend's house for the first time for a play date, and I fell in love with her house. The size, the layout, and oh the amazing way she decorated it. And, yes, it was amazingly clean as well. I didn't feel jealous; I felt inspired.
Jared and I renewed our on-again-off-again online search for a new house. I looked around our house and my mind overflowed with ideas of how to improve our small, outdated, unfinished house. When the inspiration failed to materialize into actual change, a seed of discontentment was planted.
Then Jared and I were walking through Target on a date one night. I saw two boys' shirts next to each other on a display, one that Nolan would love and one that Griffin would love. Right there between the boys' jeans and the clearance section, I threw an adult tantrum. I ranted about how we never get to buy our kids clothes that they would love or would specifically look good on them, and we just have to accept whatever hand-me-downs we're given or whatever random pieces I can find on clearance. Another seed of discontentment was planted.
Then I noticed a friend's daughter wearing a head-to-toe coordinated name-brand outfit. She just looked so cute, and it made her mom look so put together as well. I mentally repeated the kids' clothes tantrum, this time specific to how I'm missing out on the joy of dressing a daughter because we have to piece together clearance items and ill-fitting clothing. Another seed.
I just kept planting seeds everyday. My shoes are old. We buy cheap food. I can't decorate my house to reflect my style. We can't afford to buy nice Christmas gifts for the people we love. We can't rent out cool places for our kids to have amazing birthday parties with their friends. Seed after seed.
Last Monday I got to eat dinner with a very dear friend, someone I've been friends with since 6th grade. Our conversation was full of sharing, encouraging, and pushing each other to seek God more and more. It was amazing. And then with only about 15 more minutes left together, I let my ugly side show.
She made a very casual comment about someone she knows who eats dinner out (or take-out) every night. I was already choking on my own guilt over spending my family's precious money on eating dinner out this one time. The pretty Christian outside me cracked, and those full-grown vines of discontentment came spewing out.
My poor friend offered her instinctual Godly encouragement. But I knew that my growing problem needed to be addressed.
So I prayed on my drive home, and God actually answered me right then and there. His answer wasn't what I was expecting.
For all the years that we have struggled financially, I have always thought that we needed to be better stewards of our money if we wanted God to bless us with more money. So every single month that we ran out of money (i.e., every single month), I assumed I must have messed something up. I should have used more coupons. I shouldn't have bought special foods to try a new recipe. We didn't need to eat out on our date. I should have picked a cheaper craft project for that gift I made.
In addition to trying to manage our spending better, we increased our giving. We have always tithed 10% of our income, but we added additional giving toward special projects at church or charitable causes we heard about. I knew that if our hands were open to passing along our blessings, then God would continue to poor out more on us.
Years of my theories have gotten me nowhere. Except frustrated and surrounded by the full-grown ugliness that grows when you plant seeds of discontentment.
So, do you want to know what God told me to do when I talked to him about my financial frustration? He told me to enjoy spending what I have.
Can you believe that?
I had to check to see if I heard him right, and it turns out I did. He reminded me of how I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I check out anywhere, whether it's buying basic groceries or that new much-needed coat I just bought for Jared on sale with free shipping. I loathe myself with every purchase. I'm never satisfied with how low my total is or how necessary my purchase is. I never enjoy spending the money God has given us.
And if I don't enjoy what he's already given me, why would he give me more?
I thought I had to make the best possible use of what we have, but it turns out God is more concerned with my attitude toward what we have.
I truly feel like my motives are good: I want to be responsible with what God gives us. But God is now telling me over and over to enjoy and take delight in using what we have.
And here's the kicker: if I'm enjoying everything we have and spending what money we do have, then I won't care if God is giving us more money.
So, this week I have enjoyed every purchase. I loved the chance to buy take-out dinner one night this week. I bought supplies for Griffin and Nora's birthday parties, and instead of worrying about how to feed our extended family and pull off the parties, I felt happy imagining each kid knowing that all of these details are just for them. Nolan needed new shoes for basketball, and instead of feeling nervous about this unexpected expense, I delighted in buying shoes that Nolan will think are super cool and will make him run faster. We'll probably still run out of money before the next payday, but at least I will have had a month's worth of satisfaction and enjoyment, even if I don't quite have a month's worth of money. That last super tight week of the month will be a lot easier to survive after three weeks of enjoying what we have.
I know that there will still be hard moments. Jealousy will try to creep in, and I might again taste the frustration of not being able to do and have the things we want. But I'm focusing on learning, and therefore teaching my kids, that we can enjoy everything that we have to the point that we don't mind the gaps left unfilled.