07 March 2015

Time is of Far Greater Value Than Money

I recently saw a post on Facebook by a housewife that expressed her 'pride' in her husband that he was working the long hours that weekend. His company had a deadline to meet. She was 'proud' because his willingness to work the long hours 'enabled' her to stay home with the kids.

This was immediately followed by all the expected 'likes' and other such nonsense one encounters in the world of social media.

What was also interesting to me that right about the same time she posted numerous pictures of her kids involved in this and that and you can see some of the rooms of the house in the background.

What's telling about the pictures is that not only is she 'enabled' to stay home with kids, they're 'able' to live a rather nice middle class lifestyle.

We often confuse need and want. Our notions of lifestyle and standard of living are largely informed by our culture. To some degree it's understandable and even those of us who are dissenters, we cannot wholly break with the society at large. It becomes nigh on impossible to live and for those of us with children, we put them at risk. We cannot live as the poor live in the developing world, but we can certainly lower the bar quite a bit, if we're willing.

Yet, how many of us think we 'need' certain things and a certain type of life that in fact we don't need at all? How many have fallen under the influence of popular culture when it comes to what we think a car or home needs to look like, our standards of decor, furnishing etc...?

Are these things inherently sinful? No, but they're traps, not just to our wallets, but more importantly to how we think.

The most valuable commodity I have is time. There's never enough of it. I never have enough time to worship God as I would, whether with my family or in my private reading, devotion and contemplation. I never have enough time to give to others. I never have enough time to spend with my family, just doing 'family' things, strengthening my relationships etc... I never have enough time to get together with friends and simply have a meaningful conversation. There aren't enough hours in the day.

For me, to apply the Sermon on the Mount to my life does not mean that money is to have little importance in my life. It's to have no importance at all. We need shelter and food. The middle class pride of ownership and security in a property/investment is not part of the equation.

The 'values' of living in a neighbourhood where everyone expects me to keep my house 'just so' and my yard all landscaped etc... are not values I as a Christian am inclined to share. To do all that requires a lot of money and time. And the money often requires a great deal of time and energy to make it... especially to make the kind of money required to provide you with enough 'extra' income to spend on things like dressing up your house.

I was quite convinced that I would have to marry a non-Western woman in order to find someone who would be willing to reject the values of our culture. I was totally fine with that. In God's Providence I managed to find an American woman who shares my values and like me cares nothing about money. She never had any, expected to have any and like me believes you more or less have to sell your soul in order to get any.

Being self-employed I am almost always the master of my time and that is the most precious aspect of my work. I couldn't care less about the work itself. I could just as easily be doing something else. But it affords me time and in that sense I am rich... far beyond my middle class friends who are in reality slaves. Sure, they can take nice holidays that I can't but in the day to day I have freedoms and thus spiritual freedoms they cannot fathom.

I have been adamant since I went into business many years that I would not work weekends. It sometimes causes problems. I live in an area with a lot of seasonal cottages and hunting camps. A lot of people come from the city and are here for the weekend. They want me to come on the weekend to meet them and often to work. I will meet them on a Saturday if I have to but I won't take weekend work. I've lost a few jobs as a result. A lot of people are just baffled by it.

Over the years I've only worked a handful of weekends, when it was absolutely necessary or in a few cases when we badly needed the money. And when I say 'need', I mean that in a very different sense then the woman expressing her admiration of her husband working the long hours so she can stay home with the kids.

Am I bad businessman? That's not the right question. I'm a Christian and if that makes me a less than stellar businessman, then so be it. The world defines what it considers to be a 'good' businessman. It's not my concern.

Whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God! (1 Cor 10.31 and Col 3.17)

These words are often quoted as an exhortation to give it your all, make your business shine as it were. This interpretation has always baffled me and struck me as backwards.

Do it to the glory of God... that means God's priorities come first. Church and family precede work and if you rank work third or fourth in terms of your priorities you will not be some kind of business dynamo. I'm glorifying God with my life, the business is a means to live, not an end. The Bible is not instructing us to be the absolutely best at whatever we set our hands to. It's interesting how these verses are utilized to distort the larger Biblical message and in many ways just end up baptizing the values and mindset of the world.

I try to avoid strictly binding contracts that tie me to deadlines. I realize people trying to run businesses have to draw lines to make their plans. I'll be honest. I don't care about their plans. I will do the work I'm hired to do in an efficient timely manner and at a fair price. In fact since I'm a little cheaper than others I believe that gives me some latitude. If you want it done faster, then you're going to have pay someone else a lot more money. People don't hire me for speed. I'm not going to put in 50+ hours a week to get your project done. Hire someone else. Will I be unsuccessful and somewhat poor as a result of this mindset? Who cares? We're not called to positions of money and power. Do we serve mammon or not?

Deadlines are to me false dilemmas that steal my time... time that belongs to others to God and family.

Today things are in a sad state. Dominionism has taught that you should feel guilty if you actually look forward to getting off work, having some time off and spending it doing other things. They make work and the making of money (power, security, respectability) into acts of devotion and Christian piety. You're better off putting in some extra hours and 'building the Kingdom' through the strengthening of your business than you are going home and spending an extra hour in Bible study or meeting with another Christian family for fellowship and encouragement.

They call me a retreatist. Sometimes I wonder if they aren't so distracted by their club memberships, sundry toys and other distractions that they're unable to sit still and be content. Increasingly I run into people who just cannot sit calmly and talk. Reading would be impossible for them.  But what a system that values business over Bible study. A prosperity gospel if I've heard one.

I know of one local building contractor who growls about this Christian guy who used to own the lumber yard. He argued that this Christian owner put Church and family above work. To him that was deplorable. If you're going to run a business you have to give it your all, 24/7. I've always told him he's wrong and the lumber yard owner is right. Of course the critical man has a broken family and a less than warm marriage with his second wife. They spend little time together as he works seven days a week. The other man managed to keep his business going and retired fairly well off. His situation was unique. Running a lumber yard in a small town that was 30+ miles from the nearest 'Big Box' allowed him to stay afloat even though his hours were limited and he closed on Sunday. If he tried to run his business like that in a larger town he would have been forced out of business. His situation was unique, but it demonstrates that it is possible to do what's right and still make it. And in his case do exceedingly well.

My wife might say she's thankful her husband refuses to work six and seven days a week... as is common with many in my field. She's glad that I come home and spend my time and energy doing different things. Her staying home with the kids has nothing to do with our economic status. If that's the right thing to do, then it's the right thing to do, regardless of income. I am suspicious of language that says 'so that I can stay home with the kids'. That tells me if the husband wasn't able to maintain the middle class lifestyle then the wife would no longer be content. In other words if they lived like we do, then the wife would feel compelled to work.

The statement and pictures were largely innocuous but these small things point to larger issues of mindset and ethics.

I'm not saying any of it easy. It's very hard to stand out and be different. In Reformed circles there's a kind of unofficial prosperity gospel at work. If you're not making good money then you're ethically dubious. It would never occur to them that from my vantage point I look it at the exact opposite way. I'm pretty dubious about people that are getting along just fine and making good money. I am even more dubious about fathers and husbands who take work that means they are regularly away from their families and practically unable to be part of the life of their church. It demonstrates very misguided priorities and deeply flawed spiritual formation.

It is a far cry from Paul's mindset in 2 Corinthians 4.17-18 wherein he refuses to look at the things which are temporary/temporal but instead wants to focus on the things that are eternal. It is not the detached mentality Paul exhibits in 1 Corinthians 7.29-31 wherein he tells us to use this world and treat it as something that is passing away as indeed it will, the world and all its works.

I've had businessmen just shake their heads and look at me like I'm a fool when I say that perhaps they shouldn't put in the long hours etc... They think I don't understand. I do understand perfectly. Their business will suffer and struggle. I know it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, a jungle and unless you're willing to give it 110% you'll be passed up and run over. I know that.

But if they follow what I'm saying they'll fail.

Maybe. I won't deny the possibility but maybe they can still make it but at a greatly reduced standard of living.... by the world's standards. In terms of a Christian standard of living, they'll be rich and of course laying up treasures in heaven.