Steph and I were talking with our Pastor a few months ago, and in conversation he said something that really struck me. We were talking about maintaining vehicles and not buying too many extra things to maintain. In the middle of the conversation he told us that he met a lady that drove a $40K BMW but lived in a house that couldn’t be worth more than $20-30K. When he asked her about it she said “nobody sees where you live, but everyone sees what you drive.” Those words right there have been bouncing around my head for quite some time now. All of the evidence that I have gathered seems to indicate that the culture in the USA follows this mindset.
An example to try to illustrate the point I’m baffled at… Steph and I live in the mountainous country, and it’s what we love. I worked with a man who bought a 4-Wheel Drive Jeep Wrangler and kept upgrading and modifying it. He was so happy to share with us how he is getting a lift kit and bigger tires. I asked him what trail he was going off-roading at and he replied “No way I’m going off-road in this, I owe too much money in it”. I thought my neck was going to break from shaking my head so hard. No matter where we go, all we see is the pursuit of “looking good”.
I’m not against wanting to look good, but at what point does wisdom and common sense kick in? If the highest aspiration we climb towards in life is just looking good and acquiring more stuff, what is the point? There is so much hurting, pain and other problems that are ignored in the effort to look good.
It really shouldn’t be any surprise that this is happening… In a culture that’s absolutely obsessed with excess, there is never enough of anything. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes spoke of this. Solomon was a man who had more power, money and influence than most others in the history of the world. After having so much, what did he have to say about it?
“Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep. There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing—like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” – Ecclesiastes 5:10-16
Solomon speaks clearly about 3 major problems when it comes to money and possessions:
1.) “Those who love money will never have enough
2.) “Hoarding riches harms the saver.”
3.) “We can’t take our riches with us.”
How well have the marketing departments roped us into thinking that just a little bit of interest paid is worth being able to get what we want when we want it? Even worse than having the means to buy any and everything you want is the desire to have it all without the means to. Rather than saving for tough times and retirement, $1.25 is spent for every $1.00 coming into the home. That’s clearly not how we’re called to live.
So, where is the middle ground here? One attitude and mindset leaves you believing that you never have enough money. The other attitude and mindset makes you hoard money to the detriment of yourself. Well, a little later on in the passage Solomon talks about people living and enjoying what they have worked hard for. As with many things in life, the best path is found in the middle. A real jewel is buried in the passage here… it states that “people who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much.” That seems to indicate the best way is to work hard, save enough along the way for retirement and enjoy the rest.
The path in the middle is going to look different for everyone, but in our home it doesn’t involve borrowing money we don’t have for things that aren’t absolute needs beyond our means. I truly believe that Solomon didn’t want his readers to be taking out loans to buy luxuries and extravagances that are just ridiculous and cause you to bury yourself rather than grow.
The next time you are trying to talk yourself into buying something that you know you can’t afford even though it makes you look good remember Solomons words here. After this thing, soon enough it’ll be the next thing and the next… and down and down and down in the hole you’ll go. Keep to the wise path… work hard, save for rainy days and retirement and then enjoy the rest without all the excess.