Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At the Checkout Counter

Over the past year, Ben and I have learned that simple living while you're pretty financially comfortable is a different beast than simple living when times are tough. Simple living when times are comfortable is cute-- it's trendy, makes you feel good, and, unless you've got a will much stronger than me, paves the road for lots of corner-cutting. You can splurge every now and then, and your checking account won't call your bluff. Simple living when times are tough, however, is a challenge. You literally can't splurge, and that means that something that once seemed so charming and nice is all of a sudden a grim reality that you're stuck in.

To try to pay down the credit card debt we accrued while working on our house, we're sticking to a very strict $100 a week grocery budget. Which, when we were making the budget, sounded like a breeze. Although, when that amount includes all household items (toilet paper, paper towels), all eating out/entertainment, as well as groceries, money starts to get tight. And, since we're still getting adjusted to it, sometimes we get to mid-week and realize, "Crap! We need milk and we've used up our money."

Take today at the grocery store. I had $10 in cash left over to spend on food at the grocery store and we needed milk, eggs, dental floss, apple juice, and whole wheat flour. After circling around the store for long enough that the store clerks started giving me strange looks, I gathered together a half gallon of milk, 8 eggs (what would you even call that? Three quarters a dozen?), a bag of store-brand flour, some off-brand floss, and a can of frozen apple juice concentrate. I hopefully took my goods to the checkout, honestly unsure whether I was going to make it under 10 bucks. I held my breath while I scanned my last item and pressed "finish and pay." And..... I made it! With 88 cents to spare. I felt relieved and totally accomplished-- and realized that this, this is truly simple living.

I have often thought of the verse in the Gospel where Jesus talks about not worrying.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!"
But what does something like that mean when you're saving money for a down payment, maxing out on retirement savings in your 401k and comfortably insured? It doesn't really make sense. Of course, here I am blogging from my heated home, without any serious worries on my horizon. But moments of vulnerability like that second of uncertainty at the checkout counter where I didn't know if I could buy this food that my family needs, give me teeny glimpses into what Jesus is talking about, and drastically transform the way I think about trusting God.


Kristopher Gawron said...

Worrying accounts for a big part of our life - something people can't truly move away from. All we can do is hope for the best, trust our judgment, and choose wisely. If you keep that up, you may eventually remove that "fear" of the checkout counter.

Adele said...

Kristopher, I agree: trust, faith, and wisdom are all things that can remove worrying and fear from our lives. I think that the passage I brought up challenges us to a type of trust that many of us are unaccustomed to: a trust without a safety net.