I grew up in “poverty.” I never felt impoverished or marginalized, and we always had a place to live and meals to eat; but with so many (six) brothers and sisters, my dad in a ministry job, and my mom staying at home, there were many, many things we couldn’t afford, and the government said we were in “poverty.”
I realized early on that if I wanted stuff, I was going to have to pay for it. I started my first job when I was 9 years old, and I started buying all my own “extras” when I was 12. With each new job, I got paid more than the last, until here I am now – making more money with my one job than my dad does with three or four now, affording new dresses and movie tickets and Christmas gifts and plane tickets with minimal budgeting. If I had to, I could support a small family (probably – I’ve never tried).
In my 20’s, reveling in my independence and the amenities I could afford (amenities that my parents never could), I started to resent the fact that I might have to give it all up one day in order to be a stay-at-home mom. I LIKE shopping when I feel like it. I LIKE going out to dinner with friends or alone. I LIKE traveling to see friends or family out of state on short notice.
It actually quite stressed me out to think that someday I might have to give up my amenities in order for a husband to support me. I’d torture myself with thoughts like: What if he doesn’t make as much as I do now? What if he makes what I do, but we have to support two adults and a couple of kids on that salary? What if I can’t afford to go shopping and have to wear the same clothes for a couple of years?! I DON’T WANT TO LOOK LIKE A HOMESCHOOL MOOOOOOOOM.
Even as I’d think these things, I knew they were shallow. I know from decades of experience that God provides. Somehow, my family still always managed to have food on the table and a roof over our heads; my parents stayed out of debt for the most part, and we (usually) had a car big enough for all of us.
But I wanted more. I had worked hard for my amenities, and marrying someone who couldn’t support me at the level I am used to would seem like a step in the wrong direction. It would seem like I wasn’t successful in life.
Sometimes, my blog post ideas come out of the blue, hit me upside the head, and say “You’ve had it wrong this whole time!” But this one has been less of an epiphany and more of a slow realization over the past couple of years.
My office moved a few days ago. Now, instead of three windows in my own office, I have one that’s covered up by my desk in an office I share with my boss; instead of a huge, modern, newly remodeled building with blue glass sides and elevators, I’m in an old building that smells like…well, old building…with remodel needs and a gnarly staircase; instead of a gorgeous lobby area, I get to look at a less-than-great logo and Comic Sans when I walk in every day.
The first day I drove up to my office building in 2012 and walked in to see my huge desk and my office with windows, I thought to myself “I have arrived.” I felt like I’d achieved everything I’d set out for myself to achieve professionally – and I was still in my 20’s. Now all those amenities have gone away.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Oddly enough, it doesn’t feel like a step in the wrong direction. God was clearly leading me to move with my job.
On top of that, my finances have become MUCH tighter in the last few months, due to surgery payments and a Europe trip and higher rent at my new place and a host of other things that all hit at the same time. Suddenly, I can’t go dress shopping; movies I want to see come into the theater and then go out and then hit RedBox before I have a chance to save up for them; I have to remember to take my lunches to work because I can’t afford to buy them; I don’t think I can afford to buy Christmas presents this year.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter. I don’t even resent it, because God has clearly led me here. I still have a place to live, and I still have food to eat and clothes to wear. I have a paycheck and a roommate, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything wonderful by staying at home and writing or reading or editing or whatever instead of going out to lunch or to movies.
I think most people (and my old self) would tell me, “Don’t think about the things you’re losing – think about the things you’re gaining!” And, to be fair, I am gaining some pretty great things, like proximity to the ocean and a cute little village area that includes a chocolate bar near work (yes, as in a bar that serves chocolate and coffee and goodies – that’s a thing, apparently); like an extra bedroom to turn into a craft room/library; like new friends and coworkers.
But that’s not even the right perspective because what I’ve realized lately is this: success isn’t defined by amenities.
Similarly, a man’s marriageability isn’t defined by what he can afford to buy me.
In the past probably two and a half years, I’ve slowly changed my definition of success, and I primarily attribute this to the Gospel.
The Bible tells the story of someone who appeared to have lost all His amenities. He was the Son of God, and He willingly left heaven(!) to become a man (Philippians 2:5-7). Jesus left the amenities of GOD-HOOD so that He could be human like me.
If that’s not mind-blowing enough, He shed amenities throughout His earthly life.
- He left His home, His job, and His family in order to preach about God and repentance and the kingdom of heaven (Luke 9:58).
- He lost His friends when one of them betrayed Him (Luke 22:48), one denied knowing Him (John 18:15-27), and the rest deserted Him (Mark 14:50).
- He gave up His comforts and even His freedom when He was arrested (Matthew 26:47-56).
- By the end of His life, He had the clothes off of His back stolen (John 19:23), and He couldn’t even get a drink of water as He suffered in utter agony on the cross (John 19:28).
- His one comfort – His communion with His Father, God – was ripped away right before He died (Matthew 27:46).
- He didn’t even have His own tomb to be buried in (Matthew 27:57-66).
And yet – AND YET – Jesus was the most successful human ever to walk the earth. I mean, He defeated our greatest enemy (sin and its consequence, death) (Revelation 1:18) – if that’s not success, what is? It was His life and death and subsequent resurrection from the dead that made the way for me and everyone who believes in Him to
- Know Jesus/God in this lifetime (John 17:3)
- Be with Jesus/God in the next lifetime, spending all of eternity in heaven with Him (John 14:1-4)
The crazy thing is, Jesus didn’t have to come rescue us from sin. He didn’t have to leave heaven and give up everything on this earth in order to successfully save His people. He could have just let us die in ignorance and sin, claiming it would be too hard or uncomfortable to give us what we needed. But He decided that the lack of amenities would be worth it in order to bring glory to God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Because of the Gospel,
- the one-hour drive time between my new life and my old social life seems pretty inconsequential
- I won’t be able to say that I’m worse off if I or my husband makes less money someday
- I can’t say that I’m unsuccessful because I share an office now
- I can trust that my setbacks in the amenities department can be used by God for His glory and my good
When success – in marriage, in career, in life – is defined by the Gospel, it has nothing to do with perks and stuff (Luke 12:15), and everything to do with knowing God and loving Jesus (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
THAT is how I want to live. THAT is how I want to define my life.
Even if I still want a round bed from Ikea someday. Because, face it, that would be awesome.