One of the things that I often ponder is the relationship between the Christian and wealth. That is, how much wealth should I accumulate, how much luxury should I enjoy before it starts becoming a spiritual issue. This has spurred me to have a number of charities that I have given to, and one that I contribute to on a regular basis. It has also made me wary of having too much stuff. In a way, the army has been good training in detachment, since I have had to move around so much. I can fit everything I own in the back of a 14 foot Uhaul (most of that space being taken up by boxes and boxes of books) and even with that I still own a lot of things that I hardly ever use.
A bank account is similar. I am not a great spender. I am more of a natural saver, but I don’t like seeing my bank account getting too fat. Usually when it gets too high I have made a major donation or loaned it out to someone and gotten rid of it. Right after getting back from Afghanistan I got rid of most of it by buying a truck. Suffice it to say, I am 28 years old with not even the beginnings of a retirement plan. My reasoning is simple. I have enough to get by, God keeps sending me more, so obviously He is taking care of me. Why shouldn’t I spread the blessings around?
Things change, though. My life is changing. Next year I am going to be getting married, quitting my job, and going to school. All three of those are things that require money, especially the last one. I will no longer be responsible for just myself. So I am doing two things I have never had to do before. I am planning, and I am saving. I am carefully limiting my expenditures, keeping track of my income, balancing the costs of education both in time and money and the need to care for and provide for a family, and not just financially; against the job I want to do (go to med school be a doctor) and the resources I have, i.e. savings, the G.I. Bill, Army tuition assistance, experience and certifications. And these plans are not solo plans. They have to be mutual plans, which is a whole different kind of adventure!
So my savings account is growing, rather quickly as such things go, and the presence of money in my savings account is making me antsy. It is getting up to the point where traditionally I have just chucked it. You see, like most people who naturally save rather than spend, I find it perilously easy to cross the line into hoarding, rather than saving. The gradually increasing number in the savings account becomes an end in itself, and then I become worried about how much I have, niggardly over little expenses, and just plain have less fun living. That’s why I have never saved more than a few dozen grand.
Now, since I don’t have the option of just chucking it, I have to find another way to practice detachment. I am finding that I need constantly to be reminded of the purpose of saving, and indeed the purpose of money at all. To put it succinctly, the only purpose of money is to do good things for people. That is it. It has no other value.
To remind myself of this I find that periodically I need to spend some money doing something frivolous for someone. I am not talking about giving money to charities, or tithing or anything like that. That is not frivolous giving, that is necessary giving. That provides (hopefully) real needs for real people.
No, what I am talking about is something that is truly not necessary, like a pizza party, a baby shower gift, a “just because” surprise, even a simple ice cream cone, or an appetizer for the table. I am talking about anything that will make someone happy and cost me some money. Do they need it? No. That is the point.
Making frivolity a priority from time to time keeps me cognizant of the true purpose for my saving ways, which is not simply to see how big a number I can build in my savings account. That purpose is to do good for people. The dollars that I will spend on my family will do good for them. The money that I will spend on college tuition is an investment in the good that I will hopefully be able to do for others as a result.
However, it also teaches me detachment, because it is an act of trust, an act of letting go of control. I need to be detached enough from my life’s savings that if a bank glitch or government shutdown comes along and wipes the whole thing away down to the last penny, I will be able to shrug my shoulders and say, “God has a reason.” (Lest you think I jest, this was my Dad’s actual response when our barn burned down, killing two thirds of our dairy herd and torching all of our hay.) I need to be able to trust that God will take care of me and my family. Whether he does that through the money I earn, the money I save, the money my fiancee (and someday wife) earns or saves, or through some other means entirely. More to the point, even if I do succeed in saving enough and earning enough to support my family and give to others and whatever other projects my wife and I want to undertake, it will not, ultimately, be us doing that. It will be God, and we will just be His instruments.
Frivolity is so necessary to this precisely because it is frivolous. There is no serious purpose. It is extra, which reminds me that God has not simply filled my needs but given me extra, and called me to imitate that generosity. Beyond that, frivolity is an entering into God’s nature of self-giving, because in the final analysis, we are all frivolous. The universe itself is unnecessary. All creation is unnecessary. God did not have to create us. He did so just because He wanted to make us happy. That is it.
Sometimes, in the midst of a world in which it seems like we always have to be grasping, scratching, fighting just to get by, it is important to do something frivolous for someone else, just to remind ourselves not to be stingy.