Living with open hands...

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"Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others." — Saint Augustine

There's no doubt each of us defines "need" differently, but Saint Augustine's sentiment can still inspire us to reconsider our 'needs' and 'wants' from day to day. An old conversation about money was recently revived at an online community at which I'm a member, which forced me to further evaluate my take on the matter. The member who originally started the topic wrote:

how & what did your parents teach you about the value of money?

My parents taught me to be responsible, not to put something on credit if we can't already afford it (that's assuming one isn't in a desperate situation with no other option), to treat ourselves once in a while without going overboard, to keep the cheque-book balanced and to pay bills on time, that extravagance is waste (i.e. *our* definition of extravagance, which is still very subjective), to tithe regularly, to be generous in helping others while saving for the future... My Grandpa actually taught me that last point by example too - he owned his own business for many years, and as a result he would often pay people above and beyond their fee for services (i.e. if they did a great job) and did on occasion offer someone a job specifically because he knew that person was in need. :)

However, through my parents' situation of long-term illness and subsequent unemployment over the last three years I've learned a whole *new* batch of lessons about money, possessions, and materialism. It's a new time of growth for me, because it's really the first time I've taken a good, long look at my beliefs on this. My family has recently learned to live without many things that we used to take for granted (e.g. cable tv, vacations and travelling, heat to keep us warm during Canadian winters, renting movies, expensive groceries like cheese and honey, new CDs, going to theatres, eating out at restaurants, and more). Sometimes we weren't able to pay our monthly bills, and during those dark days I had times where I felt as though I was drowning or almost as if I was being squeezed and was running out of oxygen. Very frightening at times. :(

Meanwhile, we heard how wealthier Christians were spending their money and I wondered: If they could just be happy with what they already have, pass up buying that next new whatever, and gift those savings to my parents instead... they have no idea how they could reduce my family's anxiety, restless nights, and tears.

I've been forced to face my own views on spending, and have slowly come to the decision to live with less - not to feel morally superior, but to prevent others from feeling as though they're drowning or running out of air in a situation they cannot escape on their own. Unfortunately these thoughts have taken a long time for me to learn, but I'm glad to have the chance to learn them at all!

Back to the original question, the same member asked us:

how do you view:
money - in general,
opportunities in which much money is earned,
ambition...what's healthy?

Considering everything I've learned over the years, especially through the hand my family has recently been dealt, my answer would have to be:

a) money is a gift and a tool we've been given, which is to be used wisely

b) opportunities to earn money - great! go for it! work hard, earn the big bucks (Schillings, Pounds, Euros, Yen, or whatever the case may be), take what you need, as St. Augustine wrote, and be generous with the rest

c) regarding ambition, if God gives us skills, knowledge, and opportunities to use them - then go for it! Dedicate them to work and to *other* pursuits as well (e.g. volunteering), and keep Love as the primary motivation behind it all.