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?