I think I shared before a while back that I’m a big fan of U2. Many of their songs point me in the direction of Jesus. It reminds me of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning quote I spoke about the other day: but only he who sees takes off his shoes… One of the songs on U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album has a couple of simple lyrics in it that have been ringing in my ears since I first heard it years ago. They sing:
Where you live should not decide
whether you live or whether you die…
I suppose the reason it is ringing in my ears afresh today is that I’m seeing day after day the truth that right now, in our world, where you live does decide whether you live or whether you die. It’s estimated that some “15,000 Africans are dying each day of preventable, treatable diseases — AIDS, malaria, TB — for lack of drugs that we [in the West] take for granted.”*
Here’s where I want to get honest, friends. I don’t feel like I really know how to respond to this reality. I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in like seven months. And the last thing I bought was just a pair of hiking shorts that were on sale. There’s a part of me that feels really good about this. There\s a part of me that feels like I’m breaking away from the materialism that has held me captive for a long time.
Growing up, if I saw something in the store that I wanted, my Mom would ask “Do you need it?” And I knew if she asked that, and if I said, “Well…I guess, yeah, 90% of the time she would buy it for me. I would scramble in my mind to justify why I needed that new pair of shoes, that fashionable new top…the jeans that were the right wash for that season. I’d go home pleased with the new stuff, until after a while, long before it was worn out, or even worn in, I’d need something new again.
Here I am a few years later. Perhaps the Lord had to draw me out of that situation for a while, and put us on a tight budget, in order for me to finally learn a lesson appropriate for a ten-year-old: The Difference Between Wants and Needs.
None of these words are meant to have even a shadow of complaining. Before I last left the States, both my Mom and Dad took me shopping and I had some great new clothes to sport for my arrival in South Africa. Indeed, I am learning that it would be egregious for me to have a single complaint about my life right now. (PLEASE don’t think this is some way of secretly hinting that I want everyone to send me a parcel of new stuff! Tickets to a U2 Concert however… ;))
The Hubs and I have a healthy son, live in a beautiful place, and have never once missed a meal because we could not afford to eat. Why is that? I believe part of it is that the Lord has blessed us. We are committed to serving and following Him. We submit our finances to His leading and are constantly working to live with greater submission to Him in every area of our lives, including all that we spend His money on.
But this is where it gets challenging. If I simply conclude that I have all that I have because I am blessed and do not acknowledge the fact that it also has something to do with where HH and I were born, the families we were born into, the education and opportunities we received, and the people we know, I feel it would be false. Our son survived the excessive bleeding that followed his circumcision because we lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had access to health care. I have a university education because my parents were able to pay for it. I spent some time repenting recently for not recognising the opportunities I’ve been blessed with in this life as gifts from the Lord, and having wrong attitudes toward people who have not had the same opportunities. Eish, that’s a subject for another post.
If we are only doing well because God loves us and we are blessed, then what shall we say of those who do not appear to be blessed? What shall we say of the 100,000 people who live in a township just a few miles away from us, crowded into a few square miles, with shacks and shared electricity and indecent sanitation? For God so loved some of the world? For God so loved people in some parts of the world? For God so loved the Western world?
While one part of me wants a pat on the back for my spending restraint over the past couple of years, another part of me finds a congratulations for practicing financial restraint almost revolting.
I suppose this has sort of become a Stream of Consciousness post — an attempt to explain to you what I am trying to piece together in my own mind. To this mess, I would like to add that I have been reading an amazing book (thanks, Annie Beth!) called The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. I would like to go so far as to say if you’re a Christian in the West, this should be required reading. If I had the money to buy extra copies, I would probably do lots of giveaways in hopes of getting it into your hands and then your hearts. I hope to get together a mini-book review for you soon.
The greater story of what’s happening in my understanding of the Gospel and the changes taking place in my heart doesn’t end here, and neither does this little, very specific story about the clothing restraint. Please come back tomorrow for me to keep sharing! But let me leave you with one more quote in the meantime, please:
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”
P.S. Don’t feel like you just have to sit back while I walk this out. I would love your feedback.
*Bono, in Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Times, foreword.