Abigail over at Abigail's Alcove has been having a discussion on the value of poverty. Where she and her husband have embraced the idea of "voluntary poverty", my family has tried to move in the other direction. There are times when I question the wisdom of the way we are living.
There was a time in our lives when my husband and I were poor. There were years when we dreamed about actually having a comma in his monthly paycheck. If only we could get to the point where we had a comma, everything would get easier. We eventually got to that comma, and thought if only the number in front of it were a 2, we wouldn't have to worry about money at all.
At 40 and almost 40, my husband now makes a pretty nice salary. By the standards of a lot of people, we are well off. It doesn't feel that way though. It feels as if we still have to work just as hard to make ends meet as back when we were poor. Only, there's a lot that's harder now. There are things I miss about the days when we had less.
When we were poor, my husband could afford to be home before dinnertime. When he was just another guy at the office, he walked in the door at 8 and out at 5. The rest of his life belonged to him. Now that he has a title and an office with a window, he works from the time he wakes up until after our family has eaten dinner. He gets home in time to tell the children goodnight and then often works some more. I miss the luxury of having my husband.
When we were poor, our circle of friends was honest with each other. We couldn't afford things, but neither could the people we hung out with. There was no pressure to impress anyone. There were comfort and friendship in the simple straight-forward relationships we had then. The honest statement of "we just don't have the money for that" used to be met with understanding and commiseration. Plans would change if someone was a little short this month, and no hard feelings. Now, there is a social stigma attached to not being able to go, or own, or do the newest fad. I miss the luxury of being able to tell the truth.
When we were poor, we shared and there was a joy in sharing. I can remember the phone calls to my friend S where I would say "Payday is tomorrow and I don't know what we're doing for lunch. I have a jar of peanut butter, a banana, and a handful of grapes..not even enough grapes for a snack." To which she would reply, "I have a loaf of bread and an apple. Wanna come over for sandwiches and fruit salad?" And I would, and we ate pretty well. An unexpected windfall of $20 meant that not only did I get a boost of groceries, but my friend did too. It was a communal pot of good luck, and we shared it. While I do not wish for the bare pantry, I do miss the idea of the safety net of friendship. I knew that there was no way my children would go hungry as long as she had food, and she knew the same. I miss that feeling of camaraderie.
When we were poor, we lived in a small postage stamp sized house in an old neighborhood. I miss that house with its tiny yard. While the house we live in today has plenty of room for all of us with a lot to spare, I miss the coziness of that tiny house. There are days when I wonder if we wouldn't be better off to be cramped a little bit. Back then, I could clean that little house in an hour or so. Cleaning this one takes all day. By the time I finish the upstairs, the downstairs is dirty again. It never ends. I miss the ease of that tiny house and the freedom it gave me to just sit on the front porch and daydream or rock my babies or read a book. Our weekends now are spent catching up on all the chores we couldn't finish during the week. I miss the luxury of time, when our chores were small and there really was a time that we could be done.
When we were poor, we relied on God. As college students with few marketable skills, there weren't a lot of options open to us...so we prayed. When things started looking harder than we could do, we prayed for strength. When problems seemed insurmountable, we asked for wisdom. We fell on our knees and begged for help in a total surrender that's missing from our lives today. We don't seem to need him in quite the same way now that we have that comma in the paychecks. I miss that feeling of total surrender and knowing that only His Grace could get us through. Being self-sufficient is a good and noble thing, but there was a beauty in knowing that we were small.
It has been years and miles since we were living below the poverty line. We struggled together and worked hard to get to the place where we are today. While I don't regret the struggle and I certainly enjoy the things which come as a result of it, I can't help feeling as if somehow we're missing something. There was a simplicity to our lives back then which I can't help but wistfully remember. Maybe it is being young and innocent that I miss, or the excitement of just starting out together in life...but I don't think it's that simple. We have traded a good bit of ourselves and our freedom to get to where we are today...there are parts of it that I'd really like to have back again.