Have you ever read a book, heard a sermon, or skimmed an article that hammered the topic of materialism amongst American Christians so hard over your head that you walked away feeling like
(1) You need to sell everything they have, move to Africa, and live in a mud hut.
(2) You can’t be a Christian and have a lot of nice things/live a physically comfortable life.
We rode the fast train back from Beijing one weekend where I immersed myself into the pages of a book that soon left me feeling terribly guilty for enjoying (and missing) my Frye boots, road bike, and entire wardrobe, minus a plethora of scrubs, that were packed away in a 10x15 foot storage unit.
At the beginning of the year Justin and I packed up everything that filled the walls of our cozy duplex in the 12th south area of Nashville, except for one suitcase each, and moved to China.
There I was, in China with my husband, living with significantly less and living on significantly less money that I ever had before, feeling the same enormous guilt I had when we lived in Nashville and enjoyed the comforts of life there.
We had left most of our worldly possession and moved to a place that does not always afford us the comforts that we once enjoyed, yet I still didn’t feel like a ‘good enough’ Christian.I still felt like I needed to do something radical with my life in order to not be one of those materialistic American Christians.
Somewhere my theology had gotten really messed up and that’s when the overwhelming guilt rushed in. The guilt was misplaced.
In my young adult life as I’ve begun making ‘real money’ at my ‘big girl job,’ gotten married, and started financially planning for the future, I have begun untangling the places where the American dream and the gospel got mixed up in a very dangerous way in my mind.
Living in a country that does not afford the same opportunity and liberty as America does has made me more aware of and more grateful for the freedom that, as Americans, we are afforded.
We live in a country where we can pursue what we are passionate about, that which makes us feel alive, and we get to do it for a living. What a tremendous gift that not many in this world are given.
So why did I feel so guilty having been given this incredible gift?
Why did I feel guilty at times for doing work that I loved, and was even focused on helping other people, while receiving a nice check every few weeks, living in a city I loved, and living rather comfortably?
No where have I ever read in the gospel anything indicating that you are a better or worse Christian because of where you live geographically or because of what you choose to pursue as your profession.
In fact, what even is a 'better or worse Christian'? That right there is a whole other issue of messed up theology itself.
But every time I read a book or heard a sermon that touched on materialism, I felt like the solution to ridding myself of any materialistic tendencies and therefore removing the guilt associated, was to move to Africa, live in a mud hut, and hold babies or something.
An Old Fashioned Value
Stewardship is a word that I have come to understand more fully the last few years. It may sound a bit old fashioned but it’s so important as we consider the responsibility we hold with what we’ve been entrusted.
Stewardship is not a checks and balances system. It isn’t a checklist of;
Give X amount of dollars away each year
Tithe at least 10%
Serve in your community or church X amount of hours each month
Do something extra charitable at Christmas every year
Go on a missions trip
Work for a non-profit
It's ok to buy yourself Frye boots
It's ok to have a nice big house in the suburbs
It's ok to vacation in a tropical paradise
Honestly answering the questions ‘what am I doing with my time, finances, and the skill set that I have been given?’ cuts straight to the heart of stewardship.
Wise stewardship is not something that can be quantified because quantifying it would take you right back to a checklist. Rather it’s a lifestyle that you continually reassess.
Getting Past the Guilt
We’re not better people or better Christians because we packed up everything and moved to China to help provide medical care to orphans.
I wouldn’t say we're any better stewards of our time, finances, or skill set now than we were when we lived in Nashville, in our cozy and comfortable home, with jobs that we were paid well to do.
Practically speaking, our lives look completely different, but we are still able to answer the question of stewardship the same way.
I have to continually remind myself that
(1) I don’t need to sell everything I have and move to Africa
(2) What matters more than the balance of my bank account or possessions I do or don’t have is what I do with it all.
Then I will follow up by asking myself the question
Is the guilt I’m feeling misplaced and does it stem from skewed theological views?
Some of the most generous people I have ever met live in nice big houses, drive SUV’s, have a closet full of perfect outfits, an assortment of designer bags, vacation in tropical locales, and they’ve never lived in a mud hut in Africa!
These are the people who can, and actually do, write gigantic checks to pay for lifesaving heart surgery or a liver transplant for an orphan. We can’t do that with the dollar amount currently in our bank account, but what we can do is use our skill set and medical training to care for those babies.
Neither is better than the other. Neither is equated with being a better steward than the other.
So what then if you land somewhere in between like most of us do?
Go back and ask yourself the question
‘what am I doing with my time, finances, and the skill set that I have been given?’
and let an honest answer, not a guilt laden one, direct your course from there.
With where you are in life right now, what does this look like for you?