Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Wealth and Hellness

This is the second blog of the series My Life As a Wrestler. These blogs chronicle various aspects of my struggle with faith and life (for complete intro read last blog).
In this installment I will look at the struggle for contentment.

It was the Beatles who sang some forty years ago “I don’t care that much for money, money can’t buy me love.” Though it was just a pop song, I figure most folks would agree with the sentiment. However there is a disconnect in our culture between the mental assent we give to the idea that money can’t buy us love or happiness and the reality of how we live our lives constantly looking to material things for fulfillment. I for one, have rarely consciously looked to money for happiness, yet I continue to find my life becoming distracted by the latest techno gadgets, new car models, and instruments. I find myself daydreaming about how it must be to drive around in a PT Cruiser or Honda Ridgeline or to have an i-phone or a new flat screen TV. What’s subtle about my fantasies is they usually have a very practical component. I can usually find very compelling reasons why these things should be a part of my life. This is especially bad when it comes to instruments and recording gear (all the musicians said “amen!”). And these are just a few of the distractions that take me away. But as with any fantasy, they can often take us to places we don’t need to go, for a price we never wanted to pay.

I have two Baby Taylor guitars (small body acoustic guitars, for all of you non-musicians). One of my Baby Taylors sits in a case in my living room and is frequently used for song writing, jams, and practice. It’s my traveling companion when I travel abroad. My other Baby Taylor is smashed up and stays in a soft case, its home for the last nine years. Though I have had that guitar longer, I only played it for about a month before it met its untimely demise. So why do I keep a smashed up guitar? I keep it as a reminder of how my life is when I live for fantasies and day-dreams rather than in present reality. I keep it as a reminder of my impulsive side that cares nothing for the input of God or others. I keep it as a picture of how useful my life is in God’s hands when I am in rebellion against his ways. I keep it as a reminder to be content.

It was about eight months into my marriage. Besides being in college full-time and pastoring a college ministry, I was also in a very rough spot in my marriage. The stress of life seemed to be bearing down on me from all sides. Around this time I began to plan a backpacking trip with two of my friends, Micah and Ben. We made plans to go out to Big Bend National Park in West Texas over spring break for a few days of backpacking in that beautiful desert wilderness. As we planned for the trip, I began to fantasize about sitting on the edge of a mountain, guitar in hand, writing inspired songs. In these days of internet porn, online affairs, and the like this could seem like a very benign fantasy. Yet my fantasy was rooted in discontentment with my life and, in a very subtle way, rebellion against God. In order to make this fantasy work, I knew I must get a travel guitar. My old faithful acoustic was just too nice and too big to take backpacking. So I went to the local American General Finance office where I had borrowed money to get Dina’s wedding ring and applied for a small loan so I could purchase a travel guitar. They were more than happy to loan money to me at the amazingly low interest rate of 33%. (I was smart enough to take them up on that great interest rate.) So I got the money and went to a local music store and bought me a Baby Taylor, and a sound-hole mic, and a hard-shell case to protect my purchase. It was a real cool guitar – cedar topped with a rosewood fret-board. I returned home, manic with good feelings over my purchase. My fantasy was starting to take shape. I just knew that my trip to the mountains was going to be the burst in creativity I had been looking for. But in all my fantasizing I couldn’t get past the gnawing feeling in my soul that I had disobeyed God. This feeling would really get me in a bad way when I was singing a worship song with that guitar. I couldn’t help but feel sick inside, that here I was singing to God with an instrument that I knew wasn’t supposed to buy. After a few weeks of that feeling, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I finally asked God what he wanted me to do with the guitar. I figured that maybe I could just give it to some friend of mine who needed a guitar, but I felt like God’s answer was that he wanted me to break it. But not just that, he wanted me to break it and keep it. Had I still been into grunge or punk rock at that time, I would have welcomed the opportunity to live out my rock-n-roll fantasies by smashing a guitar. However, this wasn’t going to be so easy. I remember picking up the hammer, hoping that it was just some kind of test like Abraham with Isaac, that an angel would tell me “No!” just before the hammer came down. Well, that wasn’t the case. The hammer came down, and with a snap, crackle, pop, the guitar was destroyed. It was one of the most sickening sounds a musician could hear. It took several months to pay off that broken guitar and it didn’t even make it long enough to be used on my trip to the mountains. Every now and then when we’re moving from one house to another or trying to free up space in the closet, I will come across that guitar and remember how my life can be when I am acting impulsively and without God’s input.

Everything in our culture these days pushes our buttons. Advertisers try and make us feel discontented with our lives, promising happiness, six-pack abs, sexiness, health, and wellness if we just shell out a little more money for their wares. Yet what we truly need cannot be found out there.

In 1 Timothy 6:6-10 the apostle Paul wrote:
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

There are many times when I wish I had a bigger house and a nicer car and more techno gadgets. Yet when I let the voices of discontent settle down, I can’t help but realize how well God has taken care of me and my family. Sure, we don’t have the biggest house or the nicest clothes but I am very content. When I stop complaining about what I don’t have and start being thankful for what I do have, I realize that I have a whole heck of a lot.

I have a wonderful wife and two kids whom I adore. I love my job. I live close enough to work that I can ride my bike there. I still get to play gigs four or five times a month. We have some great neighbors and have been blessed with some of the best friends anyone can have. Then when you consider our living situation compared to folks in the rest of the world, our family is in the top ten percent of the world population simply because we have clean running water, air conditioning, electricity, wireless internet, three plus meals a day, a washer and dryer, multiple bedrooms, two cars, a television set for every room, and an abundant supply of clothes and shoes. And yet we still get discontent thinking that if we just had some more stuff we would be happier.

The way I have come to see it is that we can find contentment in God and what he has given us or find ourselves consumed by an insatiable lust for things that will never satisfy. On God’s path we can find the true health and wellness of a life that’s lived in peace, joy, and contentment or we can have the wealth and “hellness” of a life that is depleted and reduced in the accumulating of stuff. So many people in our world are sacrificing family, friends, emotional and physical health, and spiritual tranquility just so they can accumulate more things. That road is a road to hell on earth. As Trent Reznor so eloquently put it in his song Head Like a Hole, “god money don’t want everything, he wants it all”…

God’s path may not be as flashy or glamorous as the well-trodden paths of our culture. It may mean cutting out a lot of things in our lives and learning to live in greater simplicity. It may mean doing without many of the ‘wants’ in our lives. Yet his path is the path to true fulfillment in this world and the world to come.


Ben said...

I love it. Both installments of "my life as a wrestler" are poignant and poetic. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us....challenging us and comforting us. I too am frequently at odds with myself over some material possession. In the last 2-3 years though, I have been on the incredible journey of "peace and pace", learing to trust the Lord in and out of season. This last little while has felt overtly like the "out" of season for me and lori. But, I have discovered something beautiful. There is freedom in trusting God. There is hope that comes through trial. Putting the ball back in God's court has freed me to serve in the "now" in ways that frustrating never would have allowed. I have not forgotten his promises to us or my dreams of their fulfillment, but I feel a sense of contentment that I never thought possible. I am still walking it out, still searching for the truth, still "on" the journey.

Anonymous said...

The most fascinating and often overlooked idea or answer to the wrestling with God. We often expect God to rescue us from, when in fact he often expects us to rescue others from, whatever you would like, fill in the blank. As a Christian I wrestled with "My Ministry" for most of my life and for a long time could not understand what was God doing in my life. I was looking for the Billy Graham experience and have a world ministry, but God opened doors for me to help rescue others from the places I had been in. and on the job and in my everyday life. Sometimes I feel that I have wasted so much of my life in search of "That Great Ministry" when all along I was learning and doing what God had intended for my life all along. I now live in joy and peace and no longer in search of IT.
Now I just relax and let God! I cant believe it has taken a lifetime to learn that!

Jeff said...

Wealth and Hellness...there's some of that going around! I know that from time to time I have to be mindful of the same sort of thing in my own life. Too often we're like our children that get all worked up over getting a snowball, oblivious of the fact that it is their relationship with us as parents from which the snowball arises. How sad it is that much of what the world perceives in the western Church looks like kids fighting over snowballs. God's blessings are not intended to be horded by individuals or congregations, but cast upon the waters. Just like the snowballs, there's plenty to go around until someone wants it all.

Robb said...

The Beatles might have said, “Money can’t buy me love.”, but it was the Babys in their song Money, who said, “Your loving gives me such a thrill, but your loving doesn’t pay my bills. Money is what I want.” I think the Babys have captured the Western psyche with those lyrics. I read a book several years ago about financial management entitled, “Your Money or Your Life.” The premise behind the book was simple, when you go to purchase an item, the true cost of the item is not the price tag, but the life units you have to spend to obtain it. For example, if an item costs $40, and you make $10 per hour, that item is costing you 4 hours of your life. This idea revolutionized the way I viewed purchases. It is easy to blow money because I can always make more, but when I realized I can’t make more time, I became more selective on where I spend time (money). Enjoying the blogs, keep them coming.

marcia said...

Love your title. I think God loves a good wrestling match and that he loves to win. I think he loves our sincere questions and searchings. I think he loves to leave us reminders of who won like limps and broken guitars and a little more humility, and a little more of his likeness shining through us. Thanks Crispin. Keep wrestling, writing and shining.