First, someone should definitely create this parody (and I don’t mean Gwen Stefani). Second, I want you to know that this is not an article about how to get twelve meals out of ten dollars or any of those other financial things that I desperately need to learn. This is a collection of thoughts about my struggle with money and how it pertains to my life as a mom.
I’m sure everyone faces it, whether you have a lot or a little. As much as part of me would love to abandon everything I own and go live in the woods somewhere never to be bothered by anyone ever again, the reality for a family is that we need things in order to function and for those things we need money (and the other reality is that I would be terrified alone in the woods). So the question is: how do you stay on the right side of that line that separates needing money from serving it?
When I was growing up, my parents worked hard and my siblings and I were blessed to live in a comfortable home. Even so, my mom and dad always encouraged us to follow our hearts rather than the big salary. So that’s what I did. In my early twenties I was traveling with my music making a little money here and there. When I met and married my husband, he was working as a missionary for a non-profit outreach to inner-city teenagers called Dirty Vagabond Ministries (check it out). Needless to say, those paychecks didn’t add up to much, i.e. my heart didn’t lead me to a big wad of cash. But in our young love we weren’t worried about a thing. It was like a story your grandparents would tell—we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and if we were both reaching for something from a bottom cabinet in our kitchen, our butts touched. It was sheer bliss.
Then we started having babies and I began wanting things. I wanted things for my kids, for my home, and for myself that I simply couldn’t buy. I started to feel the pinch. Really, I was just facing the tension—the struggle and the sacrifice that is this beautiful thing they call motherhood and I was looking around for something to make it all easier. In my mind was born this little lie that I allowed to grow and fester. It said, “All of this would be better if only I had more money.”
My life taking care of babies felt hard and without the excess cash that affords luxury and convenience, it felt even harder. I guess I had absorbed a little more of Cher’s personality from the cinematic masterpiece, Clueless, than I cared to admit back in '95. As a new mom, somewhere from the depths of me rose the voice of this indignant little spoiled brat saying, “Wait a minute. I have to cook, clean, do laundry, and take care of these kids twenty-four-seven and I don’t get to have expensive shampoo?? Whatever. As if. I’m totally buggin. Someone get me a fluffy pen and an all-over plaid outfit from my computerized closet and I don’t mean sporadically..." (if you missed the film, I think I just hit all the major plot points).
In my mind money became this thing. And we all have them—our golden calves—what we try to build or reach for ourselves in order to make everything better. It’s the story of the Israelites. It was getting hot out there. Moses had been gone for a while. They weren’t feeling too comfortable and couldn’t see what God was planning to do about that (Welcome to your life as a new mom. It’s. Just. Hard.). So they said, “Hey here’s a great idea. Let’s make a god for ourselves. That’ll make everything better.” And so they threw all of their gold and valuables into a fire where it all got melted down and formed into this calf—this thing that was pretty enough, but outside of being nice to look at served no other real purpose whatsoever. And I’ve done that many times. I’ve thrown my valuables—my time, my thoughts, my energy, my presence into the idea of this god I think I can fashion for myself to make it all better.
Thankfully, entering into vocation kind of forces us into the detachment we need to experience from the worldly things we take our comfort in if we are to grow in our relationship with Christ. It was no accident that I married a missionary who worked with and among the poor. I saw so tangibly the real transformation that only God can bring about in a life. Week after week these teens showed up for bible study and I literally saw their countenances change at the gospel message they were receiving and the hope they were finding in the fact that Jesus was real and that He cared. And at the end of the night we would bring them back to empty pantries, dilapidated houses, and unstable situations. But they kept on coming. We did what we could to serve their needs, but I saw clearly that the transformation they were experiencing was totally detached from money or material things—it was Jesus, the only one truly able to make things better.
I think that when we live our mom lives in the fantasy of the gods we create, we become consumed with the what-if’s and the could-be’s and we disregard the what is now. In so many ways, I stopped myself short of being the mom God was calling me to be because I told myself I couldn’t. I couldn’t be that mom because I didn’t have the money to take my kids on that trip, or to put them in those really cute matching outfits, or whatever.
The truth is that motherhood is hard and it’s going to be hard no matter what. I can dress it up or dress it down and the substance of it is the same—serving my husband, my kids, and the life of our home. In other words, I could be serving rack of lamb or beans, but at the end of the day I’m still serving. I could have crushed fruit loops in the bottom of a Gucci bag instead of the plastic Toy Story tote I throw my diapers in currently, but at the end of the day there is still a mess to clean. Should I keep going because this is fun. My point: there in the service, there in the mess, that’s where I find the abundant life I am seeking. That’s where things really get “made better,” not by having more or less, but by meeting Jesus day after day in the simple reality of my vocation.
I used to take my kids to this library and in the play section there was a Little Tikes log cabin—the big one that you can go into with the pretend fire and pull down table. They loved that thing. And I always went away sad because I thought, I would be a better mom, my kids would have a better life if I could just get that log cabin (yes, I am an idiot and this is embarrassing, but I really did think that). But do you know that a good friend called up out of the blue one day and gave us a full swing set that happened to come with that exact cabin because his kids weren’t using it anymore? Things like that have happened a lot around here and I think it’s God’s way of showing me two things: one, that He sees me and cares about even the silly things I care about. And two, I tend to care about a lot of silly things. The log cabin is awesome, but is hasn’t made my entire life better.
Do you have a golden calf—an idea or a want that is taking up all the space in your brain? Maybe God is calling you to reevaluate where your security lies. Maybe He is asking you to detach from that thing you believe will make everything better because really, only God can do that and that’s what He is doing. In every gift that He gives and in every stumbling block that we face, He is making our lives better by showing us how to draw nearer to Himself. And we are so blessed that the way is so clear: it's the simple path of vocation.
Copyright 2015 Kelly Pease
Photo: Olivia in Fur (2011) by Matthew Miller via Flickr, CC