Last year, I needed a table. I had moved into my apartment and hoped to serve a meal of cereal and soy sauce packets to friends. Chairs would have been a classy touch.
My first stop to shop was a well-known deals website. I scrolled through the pages of golden pine 90’s nostalgia and three-legged Ikea rejects, taking notes on prices and whether the seller’s house looked like it had a dungeon.
A friend of mine, who I also work with at an anti-trafficking organization, wandered over to me as I searched hungrily for deals on my laptop.
Friend: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Looking for a table. Remember the Count Chocula MSG dinner party I invited you to?”
F: “You’re on that site?”
M: “As you see.”
F: “Do you remember how I’m trying to get that site shut down?”
M: “. . . uhhh . . .”
F: “We talked about this — a lot. You got fired up about it.”
M: “I know! They’re allowing ads for little girls to be sold for sex! People are sex trafficking children on this site! It infuriates me!”
F: “So, why are you on there?”
M: “I . . . need a table.”
F: “You need a cheap table.”
M: “Well, of course. I want a deal!”
F: “You love your money that much?”
I needed a table. I wasn’t a pedophile. The people selling tables on the site weren’t sex traffickers. True, humans were being auctioned off a few webpages over but that wasn’t why I was there . . . right? Right?
I went to another website, purely out of guilt.
Forty dollars, brand new tables made of genuine cardboard, coated with oak-colored wallpaper. Six matching chairs upholstered with felt, stuffed with premium hamster shavings. Free shipping. How are things this cheap? Who made these impossibly cheap things?
I just wanted to eat in a sitting-down position. Why did this require so much thought?
As I planned to dramatically disinvite my friend to my dinner party, my stomach ached reflecting on what he asked. “You love your money that much?”
Painfully, the answer was, “Yes.”
I had always read the verse, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” as “the love of gaining money by any means is evil! HISSSSS! You wicked, greedy money-grabbers!” This, in my mind, was a pimp or a trafficker. They sell innocence and exploit children for personal gain.
I had never seen how my personal saving had become personal gain. The love of money, a root of all kinds of evil, isn’t just wanting more money. Sometimes, it’s trying to save the money you have at the expense of others. Whether stinginess, lack of hospitality, refusing generosity or getting a deal at the expense of a higher moral, it was selfish.
Somewhere along the way I started believing that frugality was the highest morality in regards to my money. I made a religion out of it. My religious system was much easier to lean on than a relationship where I had to daily listen to the Holy Spirit and obey with my money.
The religion of saving replaced listening for conviction. Instead, I just adopted a mantra: “When my stuff’s cheap and crappy, Jesus is happy.”
There. Done. It even rhymes. Everyone wins. Talk to you later, God!
One fun little bonus feature of my religious system of spend-less-get-more-Jesus-is-
happy was when my religion clashed with the religious system of some of my friends. They lived in the camp opposite mine. They are the buy-local-and-spend-thousands- on-groceries-and-handmade- boiled-fleece people. Their religion is to spend more on good things and God is happy.
But both are systems that keep yielding out of the equation. Both have policies and procedures we expect God to bless instead of conversations where we allow Him to lead.
Of course even relationships don’t have to have a conversation to know if some things are just flat-out wrong. Most healthy couples do not kiss other people, period. Our relationship with God can have standards with money based on conviction as well. For instance, I don’t buy from certain stores that I know have sweatshops, period. I will tithe on my paycheck, period. I will never wear tights like they’re pants, period. (That’s a whole other discussion; I just wanted to throw that in.)
Coupons are not bad. Expensive things are not bad. But creating a religion that you judge others by that keeps you from trusting God is bad.
I ended up buying the box-in-the-shape-of-a-table. Currently, my dining room table only has five working chairs. (I think one of them got wet and the cardboard disintegrated.) I don’t know where the table came from and who made it. It might have been made in a sweatshop and I have to live with that.
My table is like a hangnail constantly irritating and getting caught in the sleeve of my sweater. It’s a slightly painful reminder that how I spend and how I save matter. It reminds me that my life and my resources are not my own. It reminds me not to fall into the spending religion or in the saving religion but to, instead, be in relationship with the Holy Spirit allowing Him to lead. Just like my sweet friend who reminded me of scripture and that what I believed in was worth more than the twenty dollars I wanted to save.
My prayer during this busy commercial season is that we would trust God in our saving and in our spending, while blessing others.