Thursday, January 11, 2007

God, culture, money, and me

I recently hit a little financial trouble. Any graduate student knows that such tight spots are bound to come. You buy the cheaper brands, eat a few too many microwaveable things, and try not to drive anywhere that requires a lot of gas. All of this is just in the hopes that your tiny number in the black will not turn into a huge number in the red before that loan check finally comes in.

Unfortunately, due to a mistake or two, my black turned into red. Big red. And that loan check? Nowhere in sight. Thankfully, I still have a solid supply of canned spinach, tuna, and instant grits.

Clearly though, the stress level has gone up a bit. To those around me, I'm sure it seems that I am worried about running out of food, or not having gas when I need to get somewhere, or staring at red when rent comes due. And though I do have some concern for those things, they really aren't the reason I feel stressed out. See, I have seen God come through for me in the most incredible ways when money has grown scarce. He has never let me down--not once. I don't expect that part of his faithfulness to change.

These financial straits don't make me worry about practical lack; rather, they stress me out because they leave me wondering if I am enough. Every bone in my culturally-conditioned body begins to ache with the weight of feeling as if I am failing to be "productive". Failing to provide for myself so I never have to accept charity--though many times undeserved gifts are exactly how God has chosen to provide. I don't take on the crazy schedule I see among some other students, balancing family and school and a full-time job. I don't do it because I know the importance of rest for my rather precarious health. I don't do it because there have been times when I have genuinely sensed God asking me not to seek a job for a season. I don't do it because it just looks miserable to me. And most of the time, I am ok with that.

Yet all of this flies in the face of my culture, the American dream and the worship of the almighty dollar. Concern for image creeps in, and I begin to wonder if I appear lazy or irresponsible to others. What do my friends think? Am I insane to be living my life the way I do? Then, as I allow the questions to swirl, the voice of God and the voice of culture lose their clear distiction. Is my culture disappointed in me, or is God himself wondering why I don't just put in some more work and earn my keep? Does my culture think it pathetic to accept the gift given when I am in need, or does God himself think I am a lazy freeloader?

Here is where I must again and again spend time listening to the Father, the kind of time that can clear out the clouded questions and plant my feet on truth. I write this blog on the beginning side of that process, still confused and feeling unsure of myself. But I know that, rather than wake up and worry about whether or not I'm enough, God wants me ask him all my questions and listen for his words of truth. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what my culture says or what those around me think. It matters that I have listened for His guidance and obeyed. Sometimes that will fit the mold of cultural normalcy; other times, it will be countercultural to the core. But in the end, he is my Master--not money.

The question is not, Am I enough? The question is, Am I listening? Am I allowing him to show me who he is, right in the middle of my big red mess? Only then will I be able to hear him tell me who it is I need to be in that place, too. Not a matter of being enough--just a matter of being His.


Carrie said...

Wow, good stuff, sista.
I want to emulate that faith, trusting God to come through when you need Him most. The questions you're asking are tough ones to grapple with. But you're right, God wants us to come to Him with our questions. He will not only speak to us about them, but will give us THE answer--Himself. Thanks for the good words and challenge.

Olin said...

I couldn't even tell you were stressed the other day when we talked. My parents seem to be stressing over the cost of school; should I start canning spinach?