The Selfishness of My Frugality

This morning, I felt pretty good about myself for reading our chapter for small group one day early. We’re going through Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, a book on “connecting your work to God’s work.” In chapter 2, he compares the 21st century, American view of work to the ancient Greek framework, leading up to the following observation:

Often people who have made it into the knowledge classes show great disdain for the concierges, handymen, dry cleaners, cooks, gardeners, and others who hold service jobs. (47)

My first response was to think, Wow, that’s so true of other people. I should come up with some incredible discussion questions: Who makes your life work? How do you treat them?

Some ill-advised honesty came over me and I tried to answer the questions.

The first people who came to mind were road construction crews. I resent them. Whoops.

What about baristas? No, I avowedly will not say “baristas” in small group. I’m the guy who doesn’t go to coffee shops. I’m the guy who brews his own coffee and keeps our family out of chapter 7. Baristas would not do. I’m too good at avoiding them and their little tip jars.

Keller mentions house cleaners. Definitely not shelling out for something I can do myself.

What about grocery store clerks? Fully 75% of the time, I use the automated check out system. Much quicker. No human interaction required. And baggers? I’ve never asked for help out in my life. I think you might have to tip those guys if you do. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” after all.

Bankers? ATMs. Postal worker? Condo. Never see him. Target employees? Buy everything with Amazon Prime. Free 2-day shipping, and 5-10% most stuff. Ice cream scooper? I repeatedly remind Annie how much cheaper it is to buy a half-gallon at QFC. We find one on sale then self-check that sucker.

I have so designed my life around efficiency with my money and time that I often go days or weeks without interacting with any service providers. Do I disdain the “concierges, handymen, dry cleaners, cooks, gardeners, and others who hold service jobs”? I don’t sneer, but I don’t support them either. All of a sudden I realized, I live like saving my own dollars and cents is more important than supporting others’ endeavors to create and contribute.

Now, not all janitors and window cleaners take Genesis 1-2 to heart, living as the Imago Dei, finding dignity in their work and seeking out opportunities to create and carry out beneficent dominion over the world around us. Perhaps, if I start living that way, I can help them take hold of it; perhaps not. But God takes His own Word quite seriously. “Live frugally” is not the second commandment.

You’ll have to make your own decision about the selfishness of your frugality (while you’re at it, you may need to consider the selfishness of your opulence as well). You’ll have to consider your own circumstances: What will it take for you to make ends meet, be generous with others, care for your family? What I’ve realized this morning is not that I necessarily need to move away from a frugal lifestyle as a whole, but that I must think beyond my own money in each decision, considering who else might be involved. Patronizing my local grocer or bike shop may cost me an extra couple dollars, but is it really my financial wherewithal that got me those couple dollars in the first place? If that money came, not from me, but from the God who 1) provides and 2) decrees love, then I need not fear wise generosity. There are time to support service people as they labor, not only to provide for their children, but to co-create with God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Consider, today, how you can move beyond selfishness, even beyond politeness. How can you invite those around you, especially those you’ve habitually ignored and taken for granted, to take part in the creative charge that God has given humanity? How will you support them in that endeavor?

0 thoughts on “The Selfishness of My Frugality”

  1. Frugality is overrated. I know frugality – I have lived it, and out of necessity, not out of stewardship or moral high ground. Food stamps….powdered eggs…..4 ounces of juice each morning so that one can of frozen concentrate can last through three family breakfasts before being completely depleted….mom’s jar of coins that represented each time she saved money by using a coupon or buying on sale, coins that eventually allowed her to buy something extravagent like Tillamook cheese, or maybe a blouse that she didn’t have to sew.

    Jump forward 40 years or so, and a 30-year partnership with my husband and business partner. I am married to a Big Picture guy who sometimes rolls his eyes at what he considers my preoccupation with smallness. He usually has a larger vision than whatever my stingy, fearful heart is trying to protect. My thinking has been gradually transformed over these many years by living with this man of generous heart, for whom there is always enough – enough to share, enough to give, enough to bring vision to fruition. Especially when I know that there is NOT enough. Through his eyes, I have come to see another side to those careful, frugal habits so carefully cultivated through my childhood and into my adult years – and I see that in my heart, it is less about stewardship and more about protection of where I believe my safety lies. God has continually challenged that lie that tells me I must hang on to what He has provided – just in case I need it for something really important. God has cultivated new habits in my heart, more in line with Him and His vision of work, and I am less traumatized than I used to be by my husband’s generosity – but I know I am not fully transformed to always having Jesus’ heart in this matter.

    In our many years as business owners, I have thought much about what gives work meaning, and value. Tim Keller’s book articulates many things I have thought for a long time. It rings true because however important a college education was to me, and the arts, and beauty, the business I help manage is primarily a trade – one of those skills one pays someone else to do – and the success of our entire enterprise is hugely dependent on men who have made a craft out of those skills. The more I reflect on what we do, and how we do it, and more importantly WHY we do it, in our own business, the more I appreciate how others’ excellence at what they do contributes to my own life. Whenever possible, my spending habits are now to support a local business, first, even if it is less efficient. 🙂 This is not to say that I don’t utilize on-line purchasing options and appreciate the minimal output of my time that it requires, but I just as often purchase out of loyalty or support of a person with whom I have a relationship, whose work I appreciate. These are the people I was thinking about, as I read your essay just now, and they are what makes me say frugality is overrated.

    There is a certain dry cleaning shop I take Mark’s shirts to. A hardworking Vietnamese couple owns this shop, and they have two little kids now. Their son is a little bigger each time I see him. They are Christians. We talk about how God helps us in our businesses, and how He answers prayer. We don’t share a lot of details, but we affirm to each other that we are praying for the prosperity and health of the other’s business. The city of Bothell forced them to move to a new location, as their building was scheduled for demolition, which was a huge expense for them and extremely troublesome, as they sought to find a location that worked and fought to get city permits in time to prevent loss of business while they moved. Now they are a mile farther away, which on a work night is just farther enough to make me avoid the stop. But I will keep going there, because they do good work and because I want to support them. I could go back to ironing Mark’s shirts, but this has value for both of us.

    I pay someone to clean my house every other week. I am physically able to do the work – but it is just a fact that I will never have a house this size entirely clean on one given day. It is better for my marriage to pay someone to have this happen on a regular basis – so that is why I hired them, after going back to work full-time at the store. The owner of the cleaning company goes to City Church – her husband is a pastor there. We were in the same networking group. The young woman who cleans my house each week is supporting herself while going through a spiritual leadership training program. She got in with the wrong sort of people and habits, in high school and early college, and she is rebuilding her life. She doesn’t go home much because it is healthier for her to stay away from that crowd. She is full of hope. And she works really hard. Sometimes she cleans three houses in one day. I know all this because if I’m home when she arrives, we talk while I eat my breakfast….and she shares about her life, and I tell her I will pray for her. I knit her a hat. I can encourage her, and she needs the work. I could go back to cleaning the house myself, but God made this an opportunity to speak into her life AND give her a job. She looks forward to coming to my house, and hopes that I’ll be home when she gets there. I am blessed by her help, not just with my house but with her removing a huge source of stress for my husband (a messy house) and thereby bringing peace.

    I have shopped at the same QFC my entire married life. I know the first names of lots of the employees, and I don’t think it even has a self-check at this particular store. I can write my grocery list in order of the aisles in this store. They let me send checks with my kids to pay for groceries, because they know me. It is nice sometimes to be known, even if only at a grocery store. Some of them have bought floors from us. The ones who have been there awhile feel like they were part of watching our girls grow up. It’s nice. If Safeway is cheaper, it is not worth it to me to drive farther and lose being known.

    Whenever I buy flowers to be delivered to someone I order them at Fena Flowers because I know the owner, Judi Tsuchida. I value her artistry, and her excellence. It’s about the same price as any local florist – more expensive than some of the on-line options – but I give her the business and then whoever I gift enjoys her amazing creation. One of her key employees is Katie, who just so happened to take piano lessons from me about….25 years ago. She was really terrible at piano, but we had a friendship – which is what she really needed in her early teens – and the chance to touch base with Katie is another incentive for me to call that florist shop if I need flowers. Now divorced, and struggling to support herself, she still needs that encouragement, just for different reasons. I’m willing to make time for that, when I see her.

    The owner of Main Street Yarn, Claudia, is in my friend Robin’s bible study group. She has had a really hard life and much heartache with her children. She bought this business a few years ago and besides earning her a living, it lets her be with people every day who are excited about creative pursuits and aking something beautiful, which is healing for her. So whenever possible, I buy my yarn there, because I want her to be successful – selfishly, because I want that yarn shop and its goods to be there for me! Hey – by the time I pay freight, finding it cheaper on line really isn’t any cheaper. But I suppose it would allow me to avoid driving to Mill Creek for yarn.

    It’s not that frugality is a bad thing. It’s actually good. But being salt and light mostly happens in the context of relationship. Relationships are anything but efficient and are often costly at many levels. But that is also where we speak God’s truth into others’ lives, and that is where we bear fruit. Sometimes a higher price wisely paid is a truer picture of loving well.

    I ask myself sometimes, since I am a Christian in business: what if I am the only experience of Jesus that my customer ever has direct contact with? What would He look like to them? I strive to behave in such a way that would not cast doubt on my Lord, if that person learned that I was a Christian. I will be the first to admit there are days when I am hoping to be left to myself, to do my work apart from the customers I am supposed to be serving, to not be interrupted by real people needing help with real questions. In such moments, I sense the Spirit reminding me that people always came first with Jesus – but that He was also wise, an astute student of human nature, that He spoke truth in love, and was consistent in His desire for good in each person’s life even as each person’s situation was different.

    Clearly…..this is not an organized essay or anything. It’s more about resonating with and/or responding to thoughts you shared in your essay, and now being too tired to revise/edit/consolidate ideas into a cohesive whole….. I trust you to disregard the whole if it is unhelpful or boring. 🙂 But it’s been fun talking to you. Love you, Alex!

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