What to Do When You Realize You’re Rich

Recently one of my students and I ended up in a conversation about life after graduation.  (This is what happens when new seniors realize they really are moving into the world at the end of April.)

Like many of his peers, especially those who work with our office, he is trying to understand his vocation in light of his commitment to justice.  Should he make this commitment his career?  Or should he work in another field and commit his personal resources to causes he cares about?  And what oh what should he do about the financial side of it all?

Many of our students leave feeling like they have too much debt to seriously commit to a just lifestyle.  They feel like their finances bog them down and limit their choices.  It’s a painfully stuck kind of feeling that they describe.

And we who are done with college feel it too.

If only we didn’t have loans.  If only we didn’t have kids.  If only our jobs weren’t like this.  If only we had more time.

If only…

Then we would certainly find ways to stand with the poor.  Then we would align our lives a little more towards justice.

But what happens if you look around and realize that you are able to provide for all your needs and most of your wants, and that things are likely to stay that way for you?  Sure, the future cannot be controlled, but unless something unexpected and catastrophic comes, the landscape is level and solid.  What do you do if you realize that you’re rich?

It’s this thing we’re never supposed to say, opting instead to downplay it, minimize it, and hide it, for humility or false humility’s sake, if nothing else.

This student didn’t do that.  Instead he said, “In the end, I could probably make finances work no matter what I do career wise.  I mean, it’s easy to think you can’t afford this or that.  But I know that, given a little time, I’ll basically be rich, by any marker that isn’t, well, Malibu.”

It was a brave thing to say, to acknowledge that the combination of gifts, opportunities, privileges and access he has in the world would likely leave him in such a financial place.  And to start thinking, at 21, about how he’ll handle that faithfully and generously was impressive.

So few of us will ever be Malibu rich.  But it doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t need to admit we’re richer than we want to admit.  And admitting it, I think, is important.  To yourself, at least; doesn’t have to be on a billboard.

I remember when my husband and I admitted it.  Admitted that we were gifted, through no effort of our own, with a debt free start as a family.  Admitted that being two-income and debt free in California = rich.

And then what?  We made two choices that we try to live out as best we can.  We give consistently, and we give spontaneously.  We have causes, ministries and people we support on a regular basis.  We also try to say yes when opportunities come our way beyond those, even if it’s just about buying cookies at student bake sales at school.

I’ve heard it said that giving is the antidote to greed.  I think perhaps it can also be a preventative measure.

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