I came home last week from a 5-day trip to Iceland, most certainly being a consumer/tourist, but also reflecting on how unbelievably blessed I am.
Though I’m known to be very thrifty, I was a little afraid to look at my credit card statement after my purchases were converted to US dollars. Iceland is very expensive… Case in point, a Dunkin Donuts donut was $4!
On the trip, it really struck me how great life is and particularly how blessed I am, by the grace of God. I felt somewhat guilty to be having such a nice time when I knew people back home in the US were homeless after the hurricanes – it seemed almost unfair that I’ve been so fortunate.
What is the correct response in all of this?
Someone wise once told me, gratitude not guilt.
I agree, but I think it can and should go beyond that.
No matter how many times I thank God for food on the table or a roof over my head, it doesn’t provide food or shelter for those in need. I want to do something!
Message from Pope Francis
As if on cue, a few days after returning from Iceland, I opened my daily reflection email to find a message from the Pope:
Replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.
(You can sign up for free daily reflections here!)
What the Pope is calling us to could seem like it’s all about “giving up something” – you could argue it comes down to less for me and more for someone else.
But I don’t think we ever “give something up” when we help others; we just add to the love in the world. Selfish people are not the happiest and never will be.
We all have selfish moments, and I’ll be the first to admit to that, but I know I feel much happier when I look outside myself to the needs of others.
We’re not made to be happy by being selfish. It’s not in our DNA, as we are made in the image and likeness of God.
You can’t be loving and at the same time only think of yourself.
Humanity can’t survive on selfishness. Why would anyone go into cancer research or public safety or care taking?
Therefore, love does require sacrifice. I know this is not a ground-breaking concept, but it’s one I have to keep reminding myself of.
Consumption involves self. Greed involves self. Wastefulness involves self.
Sacrifice benefits others. Generosity benefits others. A spirit of sharing benefits others.
I believe (though I’m not an expert in theology) that the devil wants us to think that we will be left high and dry if we help others or sacrifice something we want for someone in need. He wants us to be greedy.
That’s because he knows the immense joy in giving and in true love, and if he can just convince us that it’s not worth the sacrifice, then he wins, while the rest of us lose out on loving others and being loved.
I’ve struggled and continue to struggle with what you might call greed. These thoughts have all run through my head at different times in my life:
- If I give the homeless man my dollar bill, I won’t have that for the vending machine.
- If I donate to that relief fund, I’ll need to amend my budget for the week or not save as much as I’d hoped
- If I share my food with others at work, I’ll have to buy more for myself later
As you can see, for me at least, it’s all about a fear of not having enough or not being able to support myself.
Jesus tells us the only way to wipe away fear is to love. The 3 things the Pope mentions- sacrifice, generosity and a spirit of sharing – are all ways of loving.
I don’t think God wants everyone to stop going on vacation to instead donate all of their money to the poor. Do I say this just because I love travel? No. I say this because I do believe God wants us to have joy on Earth while also keeping it in perspective.
God wants us to idolize Him – not material stuff or other people!
If you see your clothes, shoes, bags, etc for what they are (accessories to life) and if you see Jesus for who He is (a necessity to life) then it takes away much of the allure of the stuff of this life.
And that’s a fantastic thing because the stuff of this life will never compare to Heaven that awaits!
It’s taken years and plenty of buyer’s remorse for me to develop this mindset.
I hate shopping and it’s not because I’m not into fashion. I want to look classy and stylish, but when I go into stores, I can feel myself wanting this and that and saying “Oooo that’s cute!” All of a sudden, I think my current wardrobe is wholly inadequate and “if I just buy this one new sweater, I’ll feel so happy and in style.”
Trust me, if a cute dress brought sustaining happiness, we’d all only need one!
I’m just as susceptible as anyone else is to the temptation of the things of this life, and so I choose not to shop often because my mind so easily goes to, “I want this, this and this.”
I’m not condemning people who love shopping (hi Mom and sissy), but I’ve found it’s really freeing to not feel like “I must have this shirt or that bag or that pair of shoes.”
They’re nice to have, but not essential.
Actionable step I want to take: Next time I’m shopping, I want to pick something up for a friend /neighbor/family member just because!
I’m guilty of being greedy at different times. For me, it’s been with money – and not because I have this massive amount of cash to sit on.
I’ve been fiercely protective of my money for as long as I can remember, when I had very little and when I had a lot more.
I don’t want to be this way! I’ve found the more I idolize money, the more I count every penny going out.
One time at a drive through, the cashier told me the person ahead of me had paid for me. I checked behind me and was relieved to see no one was there so I wouldn’t have to pay it forward. I figured I’d caught a lucky break and wanted to stay ahead while I could.
I’m embarrassed to admit that, but I say it because I don’t think God wants me or anyone to live that way.
I think He wants us to take care of ourselves and our neighbors. We’re not all self-sufficient all the time, and that’s when we lean on each other.
In fact, as Catholics, I think it’s our duty to be financially healthy so we’re not slaves to debt and can contribute to our communities.
I don’t think it’s greedy to ask for a raise at work. If you have a family, especially, asking for a raise can allow you to save for your children’s education or your own retirement or contribute more to church.
In addition to money, I know being generous with my time or with my ears (to listen) can also make people in my life feel loved.
Actionable step I want to take: Donate 25% more money than I was planning to Catholic Charities for hurricane relief efforts. It might feel painful at first, but I know there is joy on the other side!
Wastefulness/Spirit of Sharing
Food comes to mind when I think of waste.
I love buffets and get very excited about all the options (you should see me at the dessert table)! But sometimes that means I take more than I can eat and food goes to waste.
Sometimes, I bring leftovers home and never eat them. Sometimes, I cook a new recipe, but don’t like it and throw it out.
I’m sure I’ve wasted a lot of food in my life! I want to cut back on that.
If I want to replace my wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, I think, again, I have to think of others.
I don’t need to stockpile my plate when there’s free food at work; I can take less and always go back for seconds. The same goes for buffets!
Actionable step I want to take: The next time I want to throw food out, I will instead donate the equivalent amount to a food pantry or a non-profit that feeds hungry children.
To Give is to Receive
This is more or less a free flow of my thoughts edited throughout the day. It’s easy for me to feel super grateful when I’m in a beautiful place like Iceland. I want to count my blessings everyday no matter the circumstance.
I don’t think true transformation happens overnight or in a flash. I think it builds and every small act of giving compounds until one day you’re giving more of your heart than you ever thought possible. That’s what I’m banking on!