It feels dirty to admit my splurge so publicly. Money habits are more taboo than sex practices amongst many of the Christians I know. “What position do you prefer?” sounds absurdly more decent these days than “How much do you stash in retirement every month?” Money is the new sex, the new outlet for our desires, the new measure of our desirability.
I’ve always been a bit embarrassed to admit my own obsession with money amongst groups in which debt is so devilish and consumerism is so casual. It feels wrong to listen to friends overwhelmed by leases and credit card payments and then to admit my own vice quietly: “I am a sadistic saver.”
Okay. Sadistic may be a stretch for the sake of snarky sounding alliteration. But it’s true that I proudly announce our net cash gain to my husband at the end of every budget month like I’ve just slashed five pounds off the number on the scale. I have to restrain myself from checking the stock market every day, the new interest rates for mortgages, and the maximum contribution limits on Roth IRA’s. It’s no surprise my fourth grade teacher wrote in my yearbook :
Somehow I don’t think efficiency is the mark of a good Christian. Somehow I don’t think Christ was entirely concerned with saving time in the home of Mary and Martha or saving money during the anointing at his last supper. Somehow I think Christ was about something called a full life, had something more to do with the word abundance than scarcity.
I hit rock bottom recently when I received a check in the mail from my mom with the sweetest note congratulating me on my hard work in completing a work project. She told me to treat myself to a new pair of shoes. I cried over her generosity. And then with cheek still wet, I promptly flipped the check over, signed my name, and wrote in big capital letters “FOR DEPOSIT ONLY.”
I didn’t need new shoes, after all. Receiving her sentiment was enough. It wasn’t until days my professor suggested that the circulation of money could be a spiritual practice that I began feeling like a boob (a man boob).
That thought sparked all sorts of correctives to my perpetual penny-pinching. And so I formulated the idea to splurge as a spiritual practice. I realize this sounds downright heretical, namely because I was planning to splurge on myself and not the poor. But it was just going to be for three months (since I had so rudely squandered away the first) and it could only be at clothing boutiques in my local community of Durham, NC. In doing so, I would be living out spiritual convictions long pushed aside as earnest but inefficient.
1. I would be patronizing small business owners instead of supporting big online conglomerates. I would force myself to say hello, learn names, quell my introvertism for a hot minute.
2. I would choose to focus on clothing boutiques because those are the businesses in my community that I love to browse and yet never buy due to the costs. It would also allow me to inquire directly about where clothes and accessories are sourced.
3. I would allot a % of my freelance income for the endeavor to signify a tithe, a matter of trust that circulating my money in this way, albeit not the most efficient way, would offer not just me by my community a blessing of abundance.
4. I would be supporting, in some measure, gender parity as the boutiques in my community are primarily owned by women.
5. I would be forced to leave my house, find some time for leisure, and in the midst encounter my neighbors who roam the streets in search of money downtown.
I knew it was a good idea when I kept putting it off, kept asking God, “You can’t seriously condone this” and mining my mind for ways to do part but not all of the task (what if just walking around downtown is enough?).
And yet tonight, as I ventured into stores, made small talk with the clerks, let them ask me time and again if I needed anything more, took their suggestions to try this and that and with that belt and with this sweater, I felt God’s abundance. I relaxed my shoulders. I took my time, feeling every piece of clothing. I learned about my community, even how the consignment store down the street donates the clothes that don’t sell to Dress for Success.
I finally settled on a $175 eco-friendly dress from a local green boutique, Vert & Vogue. It was all I bought in the end and I’ve decided that store will be the only one I frequent for the rest of my practice. There is something spiritual about splurging on sustainability, something about beautifully made clothes that didn’t make you feel like you needed a whole closet of crappy ones.
On my way to the car, swinging my canvas bag with a big smile on my face, I ran into a disheveled, red-eyed man on the street. “Do you have any money for food?” he asked. I stuck my hand in my bag and unquestioningly pulled out my biggest dollar bill – a fiver. I just handed it to him, forgetting to ask his name, but suspending my expectation of how it should be spent.
As I had spent freely, I was strangely able to give freely.
Such is the paradox of the splurge. Such is the paradox of the cross.
Psalm 19 9-10
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and the dripping of the honeycomb.