Are you controlled by money? Do you live your life according to how much money is in your bank account? Do your things and possessions control you? My husband and I had a very insightful conversation about just those things on Sunday night. We had gone to church that morning and the pastor was talking about being controlled by money and possessions. He talked about how we use money and things to try to find happiness, and that our desire for more money and more things actually causes us to feel like there is never enough. He made a statement that I have heard many times before, “There are no U-Hauls behind hearses.” That is so true. We can’t take any of this stuff with us when we go. Happiness does not come from financial gain. It doesn’t. Many may think that it will, but it will never make you truly happy deep within your heart. As we were driving home from dinner Sunday night, my husband asked me if I believed that we lived the way the pastor was talking about. Do we let money and things rule our life. Honestly, I didn’t even hesitate in my answer. I said that I absolutely feel that we let money rule our life. We are both guilty of it. Our children are guilty of it. I would say that probably the majority of you would say the same if you really thought deeply about the topic. We all think that if we just had more money, we could do more things and buy more things and that those things would make us happy. I have told you all a million times now that shopping and everything in my closet make me happy. How vain is that? I know this about myself. I know it is a flaw. Does it really bring me true joy, though? I don’t think so. The more I get, the more I want. It’s just an endless cycle.
Three years ago when we first moved to Georgia, we made the decision for me to take a year off from teaching due to all the of things going on at the time. The plan had always been for me to go back to work full-time the following year. However, circumstances beyond our control prevented me from going back as planned that year. I did have a part time teaching position for half of that first year, but then I didn’t work at all the second year that we were there. Let me tell you, that unplanned drop of income made things very tight for us. We had a lot of expenses that counted on that second income. We had become accustomed to a life that allowed us to buy things that we didn’t need. We put ourselves in that situation. It was a very trying time for us. I had constant guilt about not working and helping my family. I felt pressure to get a job even though I knew in my heart that I didn’t really want to go back to work. I realized then that our priorities were not in the right place. We were placing way too much emphasis on all of the things that we had that we thought we needed to make us happy. We really needed to stop and take a look at what we were doing and what our focus should be, but we didn’t and things just got worse. I could visibly see the stress and worry on my husband’s face. I could feel the knot that was constantly in my stomach over that period of time. It was not fun. We still had all of these things and possessions, but neither of us was happy. So…..why do we have the mindset that money, things, and possessions make us happy when in reality they don’t? Why do we let that define who we are?
Thankfully, circumstances changed for us without me having to go back to work and we no longer worry and stress over not having enough money. My stress level has decreased tremendously and the knot in my stomach is gone. The worry and stress on my husband’s face is gone too. You would think that my answer to my husband’s question to me on Sunday would be different now, but it isn’t. We still hold on to our possessions. We still spend money on frivolous things. Our stress has shifted from not having enough money to how can we get even more so that we are never in that situation again and so that we can continue to live a life where we are able to go, do, and buy all the things we want. Yes, we are much happier than we were a year ago, but is that happiness a result of money and possessions? I don’t think so. I know now that my personal happiness now comes from within me and is a result of the work that I have done on myself in the last year. It comes from really trying to be a better version of myself. It comes from spending time together as a family like we have never been able to do before because of all of my husband’s deployments. It comes from love. It comes from my walk with Christ.
The pastor’s sermon really made me realize yet again that we need to change our priorities. We need to stop and take a look at all of the things that we have and ask ourselves if we really need them. That U-Haul still isn’t going to be there to carry it all with us when we go. My husband has been toiling with the idea of minimalism since our recent struggles. He too has realized that we don’t need all of these things. What we need to do is to downsize, to purge, to get rid of all the things. Do I think that we will all become minimalists? No, I don’t. Do I think that some of the principles of it can apply to us? Yes, I do. Instead of just getting more and more, we need to use our resources/finances/things to do good. We need to teach our children that more isn’t better. We need to teach them to give to others who don’t have the opportunities we have. I have been praying about this a lot recently, and I feel like God is calling us to do more, to be more. He’s not telling us to get more or have more. Does it mean that I am going to stop shopping and squash my love of fashion? Honestly, it probably won’t, but it is going to make me think twice about what I buy and it is going to make me slow down significantly.
We will be moving into a new house in the spring. I have decided that between now and then, I am going to go through every single room of this house that we are currently in and purge (that includes my closet). We have to get rid of so many things that we don’t need. We have to start fresh in this new house. We have to work hard to change our mindset. Instead of trying to sell most of it to gain more money, we are going to donate it. My children are going to be involved in the process as well. It is going to happen. We have to do better by them. We have to teach them to give to others. We have to teach them that the things you own and the amount of money that you have do not define who you are. Those things don’t give you happiness. Seeking God, giving to others, spending time with your family, and love are the things that will bring you true joy in life. Yesterday, I was reminded of an experience from my childhood that made a deep impression on me, and it is one that I will never forget. I went to a very small private school with an extremely small class size. One year (I can’t remember what age I was but I would guess somewhere between 4th and 6th grade) my class decided instead of doing a class gift exchange, we wanted to collect items to give to a family in need. We collected toys, clothes, household goods, and I believe money. One day just before Christmas break, our teachers helped us load all of the stuff we had collected into the back of several trucks. All of the students got into those trucks and we drove to the house of the family that we had adopted. I’m not even sure that I could accurately describe the feeling that we all had when we pulled up and saw the state of that house. It was literally caving in. The house seemed to be held up by cinder blocks and the whole house was sagging in the middle. You could see the gap between the foundation of the house and the floor. I don’t think I can ever get that image out of my head. It was like nothing I have ever seen before or since then. One thing I vividly remember noticing was that they didn’t even have a regular doorknob. Their doorknob was an empty spool of thread. The house was completely falling apart. The other thing that I vividly remember was the look on those people’s faces when we started unloading everything that we had brought. The tears spilled from their eyes because they couldn’t control their emotions. My heart was overflowing with joy at that moment because we were doing something good with the resources that we were privileged to have. I want more experiences like that in my life. I want my kids to have experiences like that. That is where true happiness comes from. It does not come from financial gain. It does not come from possessions. Instead of seeking wealth, we should seek godliness, generosity, righteousness, faith, and love. That is where you will find happiness. That is where you will find true wealth.
If you can, go read 1 Timothy 6: 3-19. Instead of pursuing money and possessions, pursue God.