Play Money

I opened the envelope, and thumbed through the one hundred dollar bills.  I counted them once…twice.   There were ten.  One thousand dollars.   I wasn’t  surprised at the amount, or how unexpectedly God had provided it.  What surprised me most in that moment, as I stood there holding more genuine currency than I ever had, was how little it mattered.  The thought came to me, “It’s play money”. And that’s when I knew I was free.

I’ve always had issues with money.  I grew up hearing stories of my early childhood, when my mom skipped meals so I could eat.   Later, when she married and her husband adopted me, she pointed out how generous he was anytime he spent money on me.  He was, but that wasn’t the issue.  I felt guilty anytime anyone incurred an expense because of me.  I couldn’t buy anything that wasn’t on sale, or better yet, second hand.  I couldn’t waste anything.

A lot of my behavior appeared virtuous.  It could be called “good stewardship”.  But it was motivated by lies.  Lies about my worth, and about God my provider. If I bought something, I second guessed myself to the point that I couldn’t enjoy it.  I developed an alibi to justify each purchase to Erik, even though he would never dream of  criticizing my spending habits.  He joked that he was the only husband who had to plead with his wife to go shopping.

But the fear was no joke. And it wasn’t about money.  The fear was about my right to exist on the planet.  If you fear being “written out of the will”  it makes sense to guard against future scarcity.   With this paradigm of scarcity, no purchase is justified.  Which is why, for a period of time in my early twenties, I barely bought food for myself and ate food people threw away.

Imagine the daughter of a king living like a beggar.  That was me. I wince when I think of how I misunderstood God’s heart towards me, and by extension, the heart of my parents and even my husband.   I must have seemed ungrateful, even cruel at times.   Really, I was just afraid.

That day several years ago when I held the envelope of money in my hands was a milestone on a long journey.  We’d lived through 5 years of unemployment, underemployment, and (by objective standards) severe poverty.  But we never had to skip a meal,  we paid all our bills on time,  and we were always able to save something (even though we can’t explain how).

Then, when we finally had a full time job with benefits, we got an envelope from an anonymous donor with $1000 dollars in it.   We didn’t “need” the money.  But I needed to be free.  By giving us the money then, God showed me that money itself didn’t matter.  He could literally make it appear, seemingly out of nowhere.   For him, it was play money. By giving us the money then, God reminded us that things had never been “tight”, and never would be.   Not really.  He had always held us in the palm of his hand.  That envelope of “play” money had always been there.

After that day,  God freed us financially to the point that we could give beyond anything I’d imagined.  It became almost effortless to release something I had held so tightly.

Here I am, years later.  Once again we have no income.   But we do have a different confidence than we had in those days of what looked like scarcity.  When I notice myself getting anxious about money, I go back to that day in my mind.  I thumb through the bills.  I count them.   I smile as I realize they still don’t matter.  We are still in the palm of his  hand.

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