I was sitting in the lobby of my kids’ occupational therapy office reading with abject horror and sorrow the highlights from the newest “US” magazine. On the front cover were two big celebrities’ daughters, both three years of age. I couldn’t read the gossip because just the photos and captions were so sad with their consuming fixation on clothes, shoes, and accessories. The toddler of another celebrity was wearing a $635 sundress. That would buy two months of groceries for my five-member family (and that’s splurging for name brands).
It made me think about the uncrowned royalty we have in America, i.e., movie stars. It also made me think of a friend who is a partner in a New York firm who is a multi-millionaire. These are people who live in a completely different world than the average American who–these days–are looking for sales at Walmart, to say nothing of those who live in third world countries around the world.
I’ve lived with money. My parents weren’t exactly wealthy when I was growing up but we did own quite a few “toys”: two small planes, a boat, a second home in the Keys, an RV, two cars, a truck, and a shed of motorcycles. (Wow, when you look at it that way, we were rich!)
My parents didn’t spoil us though. We didn’t always get the newest gizmos, and my dad made sure we took very good care of everything we did have. I have very unfond memories of scrubbing down every gleaming inch of our 28-foot cabin cruiser every time we took it out on the ocean or intercoastal. Or the hundreds of times I showered the caked-on muck from the fenders of my dirt bike and then cleaned the oil filter, the blackened oil oozing between my fingers. Or the number of layers I had to sand and varnish, sand and varnish, sand and varnish the wooden interior of our refurbished RV (I was the original Karate Kid). Apparently, we had money, but my dad was so thrifty, he wouldn’t even cough up the dough for a dishwasher. Why should he, he said, when he had two perfectly good ones at home—me and my brother?
My dad may have had some faults, but teaching me to be responsible with what I had definitely wasn’t one of them. Yes, we had stuff, but I remember how much work it was to take care of it all.
Flash-forward thirty years and I have my own mortgage, marriage, and kids. There is no boat, no RV, no second home (I can barely pay for and keep up with the one), both cars are at least eight years old, and I’ve threatened my husband with a house-cleaning strike if he ever brought home a motorcycle. Things are tight. Real tight sometimes. But I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything (although I wouldn’t be adverse to matching even five lotto numbers and getting MasterCard off my back).
I thought about those celebrity kids growing up with so much and wondered about (and prayed for) their parents. Will they be as wise as my dad and raise their kids to realize that there is a cost to wealth?
When God was giving direction to the Israelites on how they should select their king (Deuteronomy 17), one of the most important requirements was that the new ruler should not strive to accumulate wealth or power. God knew the hearts of man and he was especially concerned about their leader–what kind of example he would set, and where exactly he would lead them.
He also commanded that the king should write a copy of the law for himself and read it everyday so he would always revere God, follow his commands, and never think himself better than anyone else. Well, that convicted me. Shamed me. I’m no king (or queen) but I do lead or influence others—my children first and foremost, then my students, and even my regular readers. If it was important enough for the king to not just read, but write his own copy of the law everyday (talk about stamping it on your heart!), then how much more so me.
With so many distractions in this life, God knows how desperately we need to make sure we put it all in perspective every day. He knows how easy it is for us to allow the gifts he’s given us—home, work, family, friends, toys, clothes, entertainment, etc—to occupy our time and mind more than he, the giver, does. And the more we have, the greater the opportunity for distraction and derailment.
So when I become a famous writer on the NY Times Bestseller List, pay off my credit cards and both my mortgages, when I actually get to take our daughter on her promised trip to Hawaii, and when I consistently have money left in the bank at the end of the month, do me a BIG favor–be my friend and ask me if I’m reading my Bible everyday. I don’t ever want to pay the biggest cost of all for forgetting what’s really important.