God’s Deepening Life in Me, Part 2 (aka: All is Balance, All is Gift)

“In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we a choice and are not bound by some responsibility. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.” (from “The Foundation: Fact and Practice” of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.)

I’m reading Organized Simplicity and contemplating for our family and our home what we really value. See, I think there’s a difference between saying we don’t have much money to spend while filling our lives with an endless supply of the poorly made—gadgets we don’t really need that take over our cupboards (guilty), way too many sweatshop-expressed Old Navy tops that we don’t even like that much (guilty)—and choosing to keep purchases minimal but full of quality, conviction and beauty. I’m trying to figure out what that means.

When I was 18, I went on a life-changing trip to the Amazon. You know the argument that the Western Church’s mission trips are really just for the American-types who go, not for those being “ministered to”? Well, consider me the face on that poster.

I doubt my presence did much for the locals I met living along the banks of the Rio Negro, but I know that those 10 days shaped my life in countless ways. It was the first time I recognized poverty and my complacency in it.

I returned home committed to stop buying clothes because I didn’t need them. And then, I went to college, wanted a new t-shirt for every sorority activity I participated in, and struggled constantly with what it meant to know that I, in my middle class luxury, had more than most people on the planet. Should I give away everything but the bare essentials? Should I reject trends and dress like a nun? Should I forget about style?

I ended up going the route of Old Navy and Target: cheap finds that started breaking down the minute they touched oxygen, and judging those who might dare to spend more. Then I spent plenty of brain stress guilting over whether I should want a cowboy hat (this was 1999 in Abilene…they were so cool!) for pure vanity when so many women had no hats, their faces scorched in the sun.

Guilt and judgment. Two things I don’t think Jesus had in mind when he asked us to clothe those in need.

So what did he have in mind? What does it mean for us to hold all created gifts in balance?

We just bought a couch. It’s our dream couch. Modern with a look of vintage. Beautifully designed. It’s the first couch we’ve ever bought new. (Read, former couches in former homes: gift, hand-me-down, Craigslist then resold.) And we struggled over whether or not we should get a couch we didn’t love but was cheaper and generic.

But it came back to Art for us. Someone took time to design this couch. It wasn’t mass-produced in factories. It was made with hands. We want to honor those who are making things with thought and valuing beauty. And we had the chance to.

What does it mean to value beauty? Especially when it’s a luxury to even pose such a question?

You know what I can’t forget? Standing on that boat in the middle of a river so large I felt at sea, staring out at night into the stars of the Southern hemisphere, my 18-year-old self begging God: Show me what it means that you love us.

All is gift. My children, my health, my friendships, my place, my city.

Friday my “stuff” will arrive. I’ll decorate my home, a middle class indulgence. I’ll place plates and glasses in the cabinets. Somewhere, in a village, tomorrow morning, a mother will untie the eight hammocks swinging in her one-room home. She will give her children drink from the river, so clouded with sediment it is called “River Black.” She will wear the same clothes as the day before. Her children will go to school and in the afternoon they will play soccer in the middle of town.

All is gift for her as well.

Can I love beautiful clothes? Can I decorate my boy’s room with rockets and a solar system mobile? Can I buy less things but better quality, made responsibly? Where is the balance? Where is the line?

The more I believe that all is grace, the more I believe that Jesus loves me, the more I can claim that this is key:

Let us “hold ourselves in balance before all created things.” Not wealth or poverty. Not pleasure or work. Not opulence or hunger. Somewhere in the middle of those extremes that long to snag our lives and unwind our beautifully spun selves, there is a God who is offering a place to rest our insides. A place where we hold lightly to our things, to our ease or our ache, and believe (really believe!) that what is in the middle is greater than all the false certainty money can buy.

Only in gratefulness can “everything [have] the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.”




Filed under the Praying Life

12 Responses to God’s Deepening Life in Me, Part 2 (aka: All is Balance, All is Gift)

  1. Lex

    This is really good. Thanks for writing it.

  2. wow. amazing post. well said.
    i’ve been struggling a lot in the past year or so with materialism, really searching my heart for dark spots of greed and selfishness. i’ve said this to others but sometimes forget to hear it myself, that balance is a huge thing in life. this post gave me a lot to think about, and i think i might order that book, as well. as a newlywed, this is the perfect time to start thinking about how i want my home to look and feel and operate going into the future.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelly. I think it’s really amazing for you at this point in your marriage to think about these things. We’ve been married 7 years and are finally figuring out what really matters to us and what doesn’t…

  3. All week. This grace word springing from my lips. Ringing in my heart, the vibrations echoing deep within. This is how we get up and live each day, when weve seen too much, felt too much. Grace, my mantra.

  4. good, true and beautiful thoughts. i look forward to sitting on that couch sometime soon!

  5. I told my best friend one night that the reason I liked money was what I could spend it on: a table, good food, good wine, and for others. I have this dreamy vision, tinged with a fuzzy sense of possibility and likely, that the grace for being is somehow found in spending the day toiling in the field of the world to return to that space which is home, which has its table, its friends that were laboring in that field alongside you, with its wine and its good food, its small abundance, and to there share in the community of being, ready to return to the field once again the next day. This can be done with much or little, but it’s motivation, isn’t it? What holds all of this together? What weaves this into the blanket to wrap ourselves with? Grace. It only and must be.

  6. Hi Micha,

    This is an insightful post that seems to line up with Scriptures about wealth (Matthew 6:19 - 25, 1 Tim 6:6 - 11, Proverbs 23:4-5). However, I am curious as to how this idea of “hold[ing] ourselves in balance before all created things” can be reconciled with an extreme passage like Luke 18:18-23 (the story of the rich young ruler).

    Throughout my life, I have heard several sermons on this passage. Each explanation has not satisfied me. Pastor after pastor made excuses for why Jesus would say such a thing to this man but not truly mean it for his modern day followers. They said things like, “A person should be willing to forfeit their possessions for Jesus, but it is impractical to actually do so.” I get it — but if that’s what Jesus meant, why didn’t he say it?

    Anyhow, I don’t mean to put a damper on your beautiful post. You have come to a place before God where you’ve reconciled your abundance, and that’s beautiful. For me, though — I am still puzzled by American wealth and afflicted by my conscience. I trust that God will give me clarity sometime, one way or another.


    • Lyndsey, thanks for your honesty. I hope I don’t appear to have completely reconciled it. This is an ongoing conversation in my head and I’m afflicted by it a lot. There are some days that I can look at my possessions and respond as I did in this post or I can struggle and struggle with it. What is the answer? What was Jesus saying to the rich young ruler? Was it simply that the ruler had found his value in his possessions and it was the ruler’s heart that Jesus was after? Or was it that all of us should sell all we have and give it to the poor? And then the question has to get individualized, right? What does it mean for you if Jesus is asking you to give all you have to the poor?

      For some, that means giving it all away and choosing to live among the homeless. For some, it means moving across oceans. For my brother it means spending your life caring for families in low-income neighborhoods, providing for them in various ways and sharing the love of Christ with them.

      My husband and I feel called to hospitality, to having a home that’s open. That doesn’t mean that we need a big house full of the nicest stuff. But it does mean we want to have a warm, welcoming house full of good things: food, comfort, laughter. I spent a lot of my life so conflicted by these things that I struggled with how God felt about me and my desire to highlight my hair and wear cute clothes. The past couple of years have taught me that whatever the answer to the possessions dilemma is, I am loved, I am loved, I am loved. Lately, God’s love for me is becoming the answer to the afflictions in my head. And I’m so grateful for that…

  7. Thanks for sharing your process. I really resonate with your overseas experience and the conflict swelling up around issues of abundance and balance. I appreciate your perspective and the dialogue unfolding in the comments. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

Please log in to WordPress.com to post a comment to your blog.

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s