To have and to let go: A theology of wealth
(After I sang the hymn We Three Kings)
4 yo: Why did you say "king" in that song?
Me: Because people thought Jesus would be a king.
4 yo: Why?
Me: Well, remember back in the Old Testament, God's people had a lot of kings. Then God's people hadn't had one in a long time, so when Jesus was born, they thought He would be one.
4 yo: But kings are bad?
Me: Well, many of the ones in the Old Testament made bad choices. They had a lot of money and a lot of things, like toys, and they didn't share with others. You know, people of God are supposed to share our money and things with others.
4 yo: But if we give away all our money we can't buy food!
Me: We don't have to give away all our money or toys, but we do share some. Sometimes those kings didn't share their money or toys at all. They wanted all the money and all the toys.
4 yo: So it was a mess?
Me: A mess?
4 yo: Yeah, they had so many toys that they go stuck? Then they couldn't go anywhere? They just couldn't even get to the door? They were just stuck?
This is an exquisite metaphor for the problem of affluence. Money and possessions provide us freedom, to a certain extent, but they can also bind us, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We get stuck.
I was raised in a family with limited financial resources; affluence isn't a problem when you qualify for free or reduced lunch. My children don't worry their parents might lose the farm, but there are plenty of other ways to get ensnared. I want them to be giving and generous, not stuck in an endless cycle of acquisition. Generosity is more about what's in your heart than what's in your wallet.
I've often felt stuck in talking to my children about money, which is ironic since my professional work includes helping congregations with stewardship and fundraising efforts. A couple years ago I took a deep dive into my own attitudes, beliefs and fears about money. Google "money autobiography," if you've never done this; there dozens of tools to explore the complex emotions money surfaces. Sometimes parenting means working on yourself before you show up with the little people.
I also read The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, about how to raise a generous child, and I am not receiving any kickback, but the book gave me language, stories and practical ideas. I didn't have the tools to help my kids talk about money in a way that was absent of shame and fear, and as it turns out, that is totally possible.
This bedtime theology chat was a couple of years ago, and I recall it when the toys literally pile up in my house (why are there always so many toys!?!?) We give some things away, we could give more things away. We give money away (with the children's input), we could definitely give more away. When we give money or food, toys or clothes, I try to remind my children of the joy and freedom of releasing things into the world. I'm not sure if it's real for them yet, but I sometimes feel it in my body, the spaciousness inside as I learn to let go.
Note: This conversation occurred and was posted on social media on January 7, 2018.