I was talking to a younger friend yesterday who, in spite of careful stewarding of his financial resources, encountered tax bills this spring that completely wiped a fairly healthy savings account. We spoke of the raw fear that comes when, in spite of our best efforts, we find ourselves in moments of financial insecurity, and the existential terror of how will we make it? What if something catastrophic happens? How do we even know what is/is not a wise purchase when there is no comfortable three months of income in the bank?
I did not find it difficult to empathize with my friend. I know all too well the fear and frustration that comes when you are trying to everything “right” but it’s wiped out and you can’t get ahead.
I wonder how many of us wear the hidden, raw shame of living from paycheck to paycheck? And if we are in that place, how much we fear the words “Short sale” or “foreclosure” and worry about how much is in our 401k. What if there just isn’t enough?
And then I think of Paul’s amazing words in Philippians 4.
“I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low and how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. “ (vs. 11-13)
What secret does Paul know, and how do we, in a day of financial challenge find the key that opens that contentment door?
Years ago the women’s retreat committee at my church put on a lovely retreat called “Drop by Drop.” And the verse that shaped our time together was Deuteronomy 11. Since then, it has also been shaping my heart.
“For the land you are entering to take possession of is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land you are going to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord you God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of it” (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with irrigation. If one has the resources to keep water in reserve, then do so. And use it wisely. But the best irrigation is no substitute for the rain from heaven that is received from the hand of the Lord whose eyes are upon it and us.
There are so many moments that I could name of God’s provision when we didn’t have any financial irrigation system in sight–or even the pieces to put such a system together. But in the twelve hidden years since I left my full-time position at Wheaton, I think I’ve begun to learn some of Paul’s secrets: patient confidence to wait for God’s provision, a new clarity about the difference between my needs and my wants, deep gratitude for simple things, and the secret for the particular moment, a twinkle-in-the eye kind of humility.
I thought was I going to live in the old trailer on the Canterbury Retreat property this summer.
I need to be in Orlando this summer, building relationships within the Christian community, discovering what God is doing here and how I might offer what I have been given. But the only financial umbrella over my head is “In the Kingdom Ministries” and making friends does not come with a paycheck.
Hence, the trailer. The one great point in its favor? It was free. But it had one fatal flaw: the first time I walked in I had the worst allergic reaction in years. So…a month before I move down here I had no housing. But I wasn’t honestly that worried. I thought, “well, if I’m supposed to be here, something will open up.”
So let me describe my summer living situation. I am writing with my feet propped up on the ottoman in the sunroom of a Georgian mansion (circa 1900) where I am residing this summer as a kind of hostess-in-residence (which means I turn the security alarm on and off.) This beautiful garden-like room is only one of four living spaces downstairs, to stay nothing of my two bedroom suite upstairs. A good Steinway Grand and lovely gardens come with the package. And it is free. Completely, utterly free. Owned by a Christian family, this old mansion needed a resident. I needed a residence. We had been praying for each other—so here I sit and all involved are drenched with joy.