poverty of spirit
A few months ago, I quit the full-time job I’d landed right out of school, married a college senior, moved four states away, and planned to find work. It was taking longer than we expected, so in the meantime, we pinched our pennies: no bottle of wine to celebrate our first home together, no haircuts (which we both desperately wanted), no dinners out, no beer in the fridge, no dessert. Between the yardwork, freelance writing, babysitting, tutoring, and violin lessons, we wondered if we’d even be able to visit family for Christmas.
And so, I whined. I spent the whole three months pining after chocolate chip cookies, a haircut, and some new clothes (even if they came from a thrift store). I wanted so badly to have friends over frequently and cook fancy dinners for them, or at least provide them with snacks without secretly squirming. I sometimes got angry at my husband, who kept telling me (in that helpful way he has) that things will be okay – I only got angrier. God’s definition of okay is not the same as my definition of okay. I want a job so I can stop worrying about rent and finally get a cute haircut. In God’s idea of okay, maybe I wouldn’t find a job, and we would run out of money, get evicted, awkwardly ask family if we can move in with them, feel like total failures, and – well, I don’t know, grow in holiness, then praise God for it all. He does that to people. Haven’t you ever read a saint’s life?
I got a call the other day – a job offer. My vision cleared. Suddenly I’m embarrassed by my whining and panicking and the dirty looks I sometimes gave Our Lord in the tabernacle. Mary, I’ve got you. I know what you need and I will take care of you. Yes. Okay. Fine. You win. You love me, and I’ll stop trying to prove to you that you don’t.
Wouldn’t this have been easier if I believed all along what I knew?
Saints often speak highly of poverty, but it’s easy for us lay people to assume that since we’re not called to religious life, we’re not called to poverty. We hear about camels and needles’ eyes, and we comfort ourselves knowing that it’s not bad to have things, only to be attached to them – and we often don’t realize how attached we really are. I didn’t take a vow of poverty, but I’m living a kind of minor poverty, and I’m learning what poverty teaches best – detachment.
“Just as self-love is violent, turbulent, and impetuous, so the care that comes from it is full of trouble, uneasiness, and disquiet. As love of God is sweet, peaceable, and calm, so also the care that proceeds from such love, even if it is for worldly good, is amiable, sweet, and agreeable.” –St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
I couldn’t get that cute haircut I wanted, couldn’t buy new clothes, couldn’t order pizza on the days I didn’t feel like cooking. I need a job, just enough for rent and groceries, and a cute haircut – I’m not being selfish; we don’t need a yacht or a vacation to Europe. Let’s forget that foregoing the yacht and the vacation to Europe aren’t real sacrifices. I’m not greedy – and I’m proud of it. I wanted a haircut. It was frustrating, and I fought it, crying my little tears about how I just wanted to be financially comfortable.
I’m reminded here of a kid I babysit. He’s too young to know what a yacht is, but his tears look just like mine – frustrated and angry when he doesn’t get what he wants. His mom looks at him, shakes her head, and asks him “Are you two?”
He is. I’m not. I haven’t been two for more than twenty years. I still want pizza, but is spaghetti really that bad?
The job offer was a glimpse at things being okay. I looked back and saw that we hadn’t run into any disasters. I didn’t die of boring hair or even get a maiming disease from not having another cute shirt. I didn’t really need those things, and I don’t really need them now. Spaghetti isn’t that bad. The clothes I have are fine. We were always able to pay rent on time, and we never went without groceries. We even kept chocolate chips as a staple. Did I really forget to be grateful for my wonderful husband? The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want – but when I don’t let him lead me, I start wanting. And I start panicking, because I’m lost and I don’t have a shepherd.
I haven’t decided whether to accept the offer – there’s still a lot to think about. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll remain in financial limbo a little longer. No pizza, no long drives, no dinners out for a while yet – but I can be okay with that now. And I can be at peace.
Note: After I wrote this, but before it was edited and published, our job situation fell into place beautifully. Thanks be to God!