Jul 30, 2010

Musing about abundance and poverty

My college roommate had an older sister who did her junior year abroad in Africa (Kenya, I think), and I’ve always remembered their mother mentioning once that her older daughter had had a difficult time adjusting upon her return because she’d seen so much poverty. It’s a thought that’s stuck with me through the years, and hits me especially when I read posts from bloggers visiting poverty-stricken areas in Africa and South America.

One of those bloggers is Kristen of We are THAT Family, who went to Kenya earlier this year and has periodically shared the residual impact of that trip since her return. Earlier this month (because I am that behind on my reading), Kristen wrote about a boy who was happy and content despite his horrifying living conditions, who, when she asked why he was happy and unafraid, responded, "Because I have Jesus." And Kristen wrote about how, ever since, she has tried to live so that Jesus is enough for her.

Her post brought to mind the same struggle I’ve had for years, and one that’s been on my mind more lately because I’ve been feeling particularly blessed: How do I balance the abundance in my life against the poverty of others?

I am Christian, but I am also very much a capitalist, and so while I believe in charity, I don’t believe in the redistribution of wealth. And yet, I feel guilty when I ask God to continue blessing our family – when I pray, I can’t pretend that I’m asking for more for our family so that we can share our blessings with others. That’s certainly a part of our intention, but not the main part. What I’m really saying is, Please, God, give us the financial security and stability so that we can send our boys to the best private middle and high schools because the public schools are unacceptable and all of our other options are not guaranteed, and I would love to know that my boys’ education can be taken care of without compromising our retirement planning.

My prayers seem, well, selfish and greedy when there are children in this world who starve to death and don’t have enough clothes and are sold into slavery.

I don’t have any answers. I do my best to do God’s will, to be generous and kind, and set a good example for my children. I remember that it makes little sense to help a child thousands of miles away and yet be a bad neighbor or friend. And there are other causes that I want to support too – the USO is especially close to my heart, and I highly recommend the inspiring articles in their magazine, On Patrol. And I can’t do it all.

So I guess it comes down to what most things come down to: Do my best, and hope that it’s good enough.

I'll never really know if it was good enough. But I can live with that.


The Borrower said...

I think that most of us pray this way. I do not think it is so much greed as fear of the what if's and believe that charity and wealth must begin at home and work outside of that home by slowly increasing your reach with your own stability and security in place.

The best givers are those that don't want or better yet need.

adrienne said...

I believe that much can be learned by listening carefully to my own prayers.

I intimately recognize the feelings of greed and selfishness you mention. For me, the next step was changing my prayers to something that more global. Instead of praying for the light to change when I'm running late, I try to pray for people facing true emergencies. The perspective centers me and reminds me that my immediate situation is truly trivial and (usually) my fault.

Prayers for water in dry lands, food for the starving, decent housing, freedom from slavery and oppression, and other global issues remind me that there are big issues which need attention. This makes me more emotionally prepared to act when I see ways to impact those huge situations.

Kathy Thomas said...

This is the best post I've read in ages, thanks for opening up on this important subject. I Tweeted some positive affirmations on Twitter this morning and have started a informal prayer chain on FriendFeed and Twitter so we can all pray together. I am not a religious fanatic either but charity is a responsibility that all successful bloggers have to bear. It is so easy for us to raise awareness that I devote part of my online time to people I will never know.

Anonymous said...

I have re-read this post several times, not sure that I am truly understanding... I don't understand or better yet comprehend the greed you portray... "don't believe in redistribution of wealth"...
I'm sorry - but I think it's time to unsubscribe.

Chief Family Officer said...

@The Borrower - I like the way you put it :)

@Adrienne - Ah, you are always so thoughtful and insightful. Thanks!

@Kathy - You make an excellent point about bloggers.

@Anon - Sorry to see you go!

Lisa said...

Please, God, give us the continued good health and re-inforcement of our work ethic as foundations to enable us to send our boys to the best private middle and high schools....

FIFY. You provide your own financial security and stability. God grants you the gifts to help you achieve your goals. Pray with gratitude for the virtues that are enabling you. Don't guilt-trip yourself. When your kids are in school you will have more free time to explore ways to help those in need other than writing a check. Volunteering is the most rewarding way to share God's blessings.

Anonymous said...

I've been struggling with your post. What does "I don't believe in the redistribution of wealth" mean? Does it mean that you're against higher taxes? Does it means that you favor no estate taxes? Can you clarify?

Chief Family Officer said...

@Lisa - Good suggestions, thanks.

@Anon - No, I don't believe in higher taxes, but I was thinking mostly from the Christian point of view. Jesus pretty much had nothing - he'd give anyone who needed it the shirt off his back, even if he had no other clothes. Maybe it makes me a bad Christian, but I don't believe in divesting/donating all that I have so that others who are less fortunate can have more. My post was about striking that balance between giving and keeping/wanting more. Free Money Finance touched on my conflict when he brings up the "extreme" or as I think of it, slippery slope. Hope that gives some clarification!

Chief Family Officer said...

@Anon - I wanted to add that I was also thinking of redistribution in terms of pure communism - the idea that you just take what everyone has, throw it into a big pot, and divide it evenly. The capitalist in me rebels against that very strongly.