When he spoke the words, I laughed and said, “Yeah, why not?” But walking away, I felt a shadow of self-recognition flit over me. Kind of scared me.Kevin** doesn’t fit in a motel. Bright-eyed, energetic, million dollar smile, it’s like he belongs in the burbs or an urban loft. I wondered what he was doing in a motel.His companions made motel sense — “wife” Kathy** usually inebriated; friend Don,** off-kilter and harsh. The three of them lived in one motel room, extra odd because Don and Kathy had once been an item. A weird triangle. We became friends, with visits ranging from sweet to crazy. Don drank and could be violent, often towards Kathy. I intervened a time or two, trying to keep Kathy safe — cops, manager and neighbors involved.Kevin just kept smiling, navigating the craziness and going to work, making good middle-class money. Long days, long hours, wild roommates, but always positive.
Things changed — Kathy died suddenly, illness and booze the culprits. Don lost his job, crawled into a bottle, landed on the streets. Kevin chugged along, going to work, grieving in a muted way. Smiling, positive, quick to date again.Now, we see him less — he works late — and usually he talks about how great life is. Less interested in prayer than before. Recently, I got an update — another raise, a beautiful girlfriend, Super Bowl party plans with prominent friends.About to go, he gave me that million dollar smile and said: “Hey, why not make $100k and have a beautiful young girlfriend?” I laughed and said, “Yeah, why not?” Tough to argue with. I didn’t offer prayer; it didn’t seem to fit. I headed into the night, thinking about his words.
On one hand, I was glad for him, thankful for hard-earned comfort. Yet, his tone reminded me of something, a truth I know in my own heart. Money and all it buys often becomes too large in our lives, larger than it should be. And, money grown large can easily limit the work of Jesus in me. As I place more trust in money and stuff, I place less trust in Jesus.This isn’t about Kevin; it is about me. It is not my place to judge him. Yet his words, like a mirror, reminded me how quickly my affections and trust turn toward money and its bounty. Not just me, but perhaps also you? Most of you who read this are a part of the world I come from, a world of wealth.Working among the poor, I began to realize how wealthy I am. Once a nice theory, I now feel that in my bones. Many of us live lives filled with money and things that are nearly unparalleled around the world and throughout history. Think of what ordinary people have in comparison to rich people 100 years ago. We drive cars, flit about in airplanes, have the internet and smartphones, enjoy air conditioning and heating, have unlimited food—the list is endless.
I want to say this in a way both kind and truthful: You and I—we are rich! Yet we don’t see it because we live around others like us, others with the same bounty. Plus, we can always find someone richer than us. But if the word rich has any objective meaning, most of us are rich.Being rich is not our problem. As Paul says, not money, but the love of money is the root of all evil. How easy it is to love money and its fruits, easy for me, easy for you. Subtle too—money-love creeps in, tip-toeing, taking ever larger chunks of our heart while we barely notice.Jesus talks about “the deceitfulness of wealth.”
Just when good seeds start growing in our lives, “the deceitfulness of wealth” comes along and chokes them. Jesus’ point? Not only can we get too attached to money and stuff, but often we don’t even notice it happening. Yet if we hold too firmly to that bounty, we squeeze out some of Jesus’ work in us. That was the shadow that passed over my soul as I headed into the night.I have no simple prescription. The issue is complex and we are all different. But if each of us will humbly ask Jesus to help us clearly see both our wealth and where we are too attached, surely He will do that. He will show us how to more fully trust Him.