For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have… pierced themselves with many pains. – 1 Timothy 6:10
But I don’t want to begin there. I want to begin instead with something I’ve noticed that I tell myself almost every morning when I wake up. Nearly every morning when I wake up, I tell myself two things: first, “I didn’t get enough sleep,” and second, “I don’t have enough time.” Sometimes the first is actually true – I didn’t get enough sleep. But the second, never. On any given morning I have exactly the same amount of time I did the previous day, the same amount of time that every other person has that day, the same amount of time that every person has had every day for centuries. I have 24 hours!
To think to myself nearly every morning that “I didn’t get enough sleep” and “I don’t have enough time” may seem inconsequential, but… If I’m not careful, these thoughts begin each day with an attitude of scarcity. Scarcity takes root where we lack trust and thrives where we our insecure. Scarcity undermines our best self and tilts our functioning toward our least-best-self. Scarcity chips away at our integrity, it blinds us to the goodness around us, and it leads to a lack of contentment. Scarcity has to do with fear, not love, and if we are not careful, it has a way of hobbling us and hindering us from truly being alive.
All of us have within us the seeds of scarcity; and we all to some degree or another water these seeds and allow them to grow. So we all know about which Paul speaks when he writes:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have… pierced themselves with many pain.
To counter scarcity’s grip, Paul offers Timothy some things he can do:
But as for you… shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith… keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ…
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, Paul’s writing here sounds a little heroic. Given my insecurities, my lack of trust, my blindness to God’s goodness, I’m not always up to “fighting the good fight,” or “keeping the commandment without spot or blame.” There are days when Paul’s suggestions seem impossible.
Which is why it’s important to sometimes pair a scripture passage with another. Like an old dog can be enlivened by the presence of a younger, a “tired” scripture can often be enlivened by placing it alongside another. To rightly hear Paul’s words in Timothy, then, I find it helpful to place them alongside Paul’s letter to the Romans. For in Romans Paul expresses not heroism, but emphasizes human frailty and the power of God’s grace. In chapter 3, for example, Paul writes:
…all have sinned and fall short… [and all are] now justified by his grace as a gift. (Romans 3:23-24)
Paul’s words suggest that we cannot on our own release ourselves from scarcity’s grip – “all have sinned and fall short.” But, being “justified by his grace as a gift,” with God’s help it is possible to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,” etc. etc. and to come instead to a place of abundance.
If we would live, not from scarcity but from abundance, we need God’s help to help us see God. We need God’s help to see that God gives us, for example, 24 hours each day. We need God’s help to see that God gives us adequate food and clothing. We need God’s help to see that God gives us a world filled with beauty, that God gives us challenges to help us grow, that God never leaves us, that God carries us through difficult times, that we are surrounded by loving care, that we are alive. The list could go on…
Fr. Arrupe, the Superior of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) from 1965 until 1983, tells the story of visiting some Jesuits who ministered to people living on a trash heap outside a large South American city. After Mass one day in the house chapel, a man in the congregation invited Fr. Arrupe to visit him at his house on the trash dump. “I have something to give you,” the man said. “But you must arrive no later than 5:30(am).” Thinking that the man was going to give him some treasure he had found in the dump – and curious as to the reason of the early hour – Fr. Arrupe accepted. The next morning Fr. Arrupe arrived at the man’s house, a simple shack built from scraps, on a hill of garbage in the trash dump, just ahead of 5:30. The man welcomed him warmly and said, “Please, sit here, and watch the corner of the frame around my door.” Puzzled, Fr. Arrupe sat in the darkness and looked toward the corner of the frame of the simple wooden door, just like the man said. As the sky turned to dawn, the man became more and more excited until he said, “Here it comes!” A tiny sliver of light appeared at the corner of the door’s frame and began to spread. Silently, the light grew and grew, illuminating the frame, and then the top of the shack and then the whole shack, and then slowly spread to the entire hill. Turning to Fr. Arrupe, the man asked, “Can you believe the beauty that God gives me right here, every morning?”
That’s how I want to wake up every day. And I’m asking God to help me. Which is why I come to Eucharist every Sunday. Which is why Ashley and I tithe our income. Which is why I try, at the end of each day, to give thanks for the ways in which I felt God’s presence that day. These and other practices soften the soil of our hearts to let God in, who, patiently and over time, can turn our souls from a stance of scarcity toward an “attitude of gratitude.” So that we, too, might believe the beauty that God gives us right here, every morning. So that we, too, can see and be grateful for God’s gifts, which is an extraordinary, joy-filled way to be alive.