For the first seven years of my life, I lived in blissful ignorance in a 3,000-square-foot home with beach access. Then my dad left—and took his house payments with him. My mom, sister, and I were forced to move to a 500-square-foot renovated pump house, where the glasses in our kitchen cupboard rattled every time a truck drove past.
My sister, Sarah, and I teeter-tottered between the financial disparity of two homes. Dad took us downhill skiing in the Rockies for spring break, while Mom got free turkeys from church at Thanksgiving.
My mom was good at many things, but managing money wasn’t one of them. Sarah and I lived the resulting tension and made fast friends with frugality. I felt the strain every time Mom failed to make her paycheck stretch until Friday. So I took her cue and worried like it was my job. When I asked Mom for things, she often replied, “Not until the end of the week” or “Sorry honey, we don’t have enough money for that.”
Occasionally, when things got really tight, or Mom got particularly tired of not having enough, she’d take out another credit card or loan. A flashy Band-Aid to distract from the festering wound underneath.
I grew to hate the need for money altogether, and the limits it placed on people who didn’t have it. During my teen years, I vowed to move to a remote tribe where monetary currency didn’t exist. I thought life would be much more pleasant that way.
I’d seen the temptation and destruction of both poverty and riches, and I hated both extremes. I wanted to avoid being rich as much as I wanted to avoid being poor. This passage in Proverbs became personal to me:
“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.”
I craved the simplicity and safety of the middle ground. Just give me my daily bread and let me live in peace.
When the time came to apply for colleges, my dad’s significant income disqualified me for financial aid. The college I chose didn’t care that he didn’t plan to pay a dime toward my tuition. So I took out a loan. I thought that’s what everyone did.
I worked four part-time jobs while carrying a full load of classes. Even so, it took me ten years to pay off my first year of college. Ten years.
Just after my college graduation, I moved to Africa, anticipating a culture less driven by money. I was disappointed to learn I hadn’t escaped the need for money. My tuition debt followed me. I still needed to pay for rent and utilities, a car, gas, and insurance. I still needed to buy food and clothes.
I married a South African man and my debt in American dollars became ours—a hefty burden to heave onto the shoulders of someone who raised his own financial support to serve in full-time ministry.
Living on raised support made dependency on God come alive. From month to month, we never knew how much money we would receive. We kept praying for the Lord to provide. Never once did God fail to meet our needs—even if he did it through friends taking us grocery shopping on one occasion when the supply in our kitchen cupboards ran dry.
Over and over again, I found hope in these words from Jesus according to Matthew:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
When my husband transitioned to a salaried job, it was more tempting to think the money belonged to us. The notion of his paycheck being “God’s money” faded into the background. In my view, it was ours. I thought if we worked harder, we could fatten our bank account and finally start living comfortably with security.
But life happens. Bills need to be paid, kids are born and need diapers and doctor’s visits, cars break down, water heaters burst. I am keenly aware of our lack of control. We can do our best to save and make wise decisions with our money, but ultimately, provision is God’s prerogative.
I dislike the need for money. I worry we might not have enough to eat at the end of the month. And I wonder what we’ll do if the car breaks down again and needs more expensive repairs. But if my God cares for the flowers and birds, surely he’ll provide for my family too?