Monday, March 7, 2011

Lent and "Enough"

As we count the days until Lent (finally!) begins, some of the "self-examination and repentance" might well focus on what we have and how much we need--how much is enough. A recent article entitled "When Rich People Do Stupid Things" makes the point that wealth can be just as addictive as anything else--some people never have enough. On the other hand, one only needs to go as far as St. Paul, who writes:
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:12).
Most folks are not the ├╝ber-rich described in the article. Yet how much of our time, energy, even prayers are consumed with consumables? How much of our lives are focused on our next paycheck, our next payout, or our next payback? Time for some self-examination and repentance, perhaps?

The author of the article ends it with the assertion that researchers are in agreement on the following:
"Money isn't the key to happiness. What really gives people meaning and happiness is a combination of four things: Control over what they're doing, progress in what they're pursuing, being connected with others, and being part of something they enjoy that's bigger than themselves."
I think pursuit of wealth is a symptom, not the disease. The problem is that we have (again, literally) been sold a lie--that wealth equals power and control. Who doesn't feel out of control these days? When people feel out of control, they look around for something the can control and that (they believe) can help them control their lives, and wealth is at the top of the list.

It's a lie.

Of course, wealthy people do have more choices than poor people do. The wealthy have more "discretionary income" and so their choices are expended beyond simply needing to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. But wealthy people ultimately have precisely as much control as anyone else--and that is not much. We don't know whether an earthquake will take place tomorrow and wipe out our homes, businesses, even churches (witness the quake in Christchurch, New Zealand). Even individually, we don't know what is going to happen in our lives.

What faith can do, and what church can strengthen, are the last two items in the list: being connected with others, and being part of something they enjoy that's bigger than ourselves. As we enter Lent, perhaps the best self-examination and repentance we could engage in is identifying how much time, effort, money, and even prayer goes in to maintaining that illusion of control and diverting that into strengthening one's own faith in God and support for the church. Who knows? God may do something new...