When Pastor Laura S. Truax announced to our church that each congregant would be receiving a check for $500, there were a lot of emotions in the room, but the general sentiment was surprise, and perhaps, amazement. After all, it’s a pretty incredible gift to be given. Five hundred dollars can make a big difference in a person’s life, in several people’s lives. Five hundred dollars is an incredible opportunity.
That was how I knew I was supposed to feel. And it wasn’t how I felt.
My first reaction was more along the lines of, “Isn’t it someone else’s job to make these decisions?”
Frankly, I’m having a hard enough time figuring out how to find time to do the dishes and the laundry. (How many times can you wear work pants before dry-cleaning them?) I don’t know that I want to be responsible for the thoughtful discernment of how to spend five hundred dollars.
Also, I don’t really want to think about money at all. I much prefer to leave that to my accountant husband. I’d rather not have to take a look at the total sum of how much money my husband and I spend eating at restaurants each month. I don’t want to know the total amount of money I spend in a year on my daily iced tea from Dunkin Donuts.
Yes, daily. Including weekends.
See, my life is pretty much working for me, and for the most part I’m pretty generous. My husband and I support different charities and tithe. We get involved in the occasional volunteer project. Add to that the fact that I am working in an urban school district, helping children receive a quality education, and I’d like to think that I’m doing pretty well for myself with my talents and my skills and my contributions to the world. (And for the record, I get my daily iced tea in a reusable mug.)
But since getting this money hardly a day has gone by without me saying to my husband, “And maybe we could give some of the money to this.” Whether the “this” be to a friend who is struggling to meet rent, to a former student who is paying for college tuition, to another friend who is providing weekly meals to people in Chicago, or to a charity working to stop the spread of Ebola in Western Africa. The need is all around.
In other words, getting five hundred dollars has been forcing me to engage with the world in a new and uncomfortable way.
It would be one thing if it stopped there. But it doesn’t. Because the other truth of my first thought when I got this money was, “Wow, that’s not very much money.”
It’s not that my husband and I are Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a sea of gold. We still have student loans and a mortgage, we were recently hit with a large auto repair, and re-doing the roof of our house cleared out our savings.
But generally speaking, if we want something we have the means to get it. Like my daily Dunkin Donuts iced tea. Or a recent dinner out to Alinea. Yeah. So while we may not have $500 to give away every day, we could probably give away more than we do.
And even having said that, let me be clear that the other night I got pretty surly when my husband asked if I would ever be interested in brewing my own iced tea at home. Because seriously, where does that line of thinking stop? Should we sell our house and live in a tent? And so what that I paid two hundred dollars to get my hair cut and colored? That’s how much it costs, and I need to look professional for my job. The job, I would like to remind you, where I help change the lives of children. Fueled by the caffeine in my REUSABLE mug.
And on and on and on.
So no, the five hundred dollar check, still sitting in the trunk of my car where I left it the Sunday I received it, has not brought unlimited happiness and celebration. It’s brought a lot of tough reflection.
Maybe the same tough reflection that Jesus wanted the Pharisees to have when he said, “Woe
When discussing my feelings in our small group I said, “A big part of me wants to write a five hundred dollar check to the charity of the moment, because that’s so much easier than having to pay attention to all the needs all around me.” And I stand by that. The check is a hot potato I’m more than ready to pass to the next person.
But despite my whining and complaining, I also recognize that this discomfort and frustration, this magnifying glass to my own financial choices, well that might very well be the point, at least for me.
And so I am left with the question, “Will I continue to allow this experience to change how I interact with the world around me?”
Because maybe small things like brewing my own ice tea (note, I am not committing to this) can add up to make a big difference, and maybe if I actually believed that, and other people did, too, then giving each congregant in a church $500 wouldn’t be such a big deal. Maybe that kind of giving would be normal.
Maybe it should be. And maybe that starts with me.
Rachel Douglas – Royal Gramma Prayer School Member