A failed ascetic

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I have a confession to make. You know when you want to run into the grocery store, and grab an eight pack of Charmin, and there’s that person, standing in the aisle, staring at all the choices? You wait for a couple of seconds, but she seems overwhelmed by the white packages, and so you say, “excuse me” and you reach past her and move on down the aisle. Do you know who I’m talking about?

I am that person.

I’m trying to calculate and compare the penny per square, because for the past dozen years, I’ve practiced a frugality that borders on stinginess.

We watched the fireworks from our church steps yesterday. We could only see half the show, but it was quite lovely, seeing them go off, while my daughter danced around, stomping in every puddle that she could find. I was with my good friend Jackie Saxon, eating good food, watching the show in our nation’s capital.

As the festive explosions lit up around us, I couldn’t help but notice that I am comfortable–not just spiritually, but also materially comfortable. For the first time in our pastorates, my husband and I both have good jobs. We have all of those luxury things that make our lives so much easier: two computers, two cars that run, two cell phones, and Internet access. And we have something that I don’t consider a necessity, but somehow it happened anyways: My daughter goes to a really, really good public school.

There’s a part of me that’s hugely uncomfortable with my own comfort. I mean, in theory, I’m tough. I think pastors should be paid a living wage, one that a family can live on, and female clergy need to be paid as much as male clergy. I write about it all time.

But, there was always something gnawing at my pocketbook. I felt guilty because we live off of other people’s offerings. I never wanted to look like I had a better life than the people who were supporting me. And, I fancied myself as an ascetic, called to be free from the material constraints that could bind us.

The problem was that I was standing in that toilet paper aisle way too long. A few years ago, I was feeling quite desperate. I was always running numbers in my head, trying to figure out how we were ever going to be able to pay off our student loans. Each month, when the mortgage was due, I would be terrified as I wrote the check. In my longing to live a simple life, to be free from our rampant consumer culture, I was actually being ruled by money even more. I wasn’t taking care of myself, my family, and I felt depleted and cheated.

I’m trying to change. I’m trying to live less of my life in front of the toilet paper, and more of it with good friends and good food. I’m learning to negotiate–which means more than just writing a letter to the editor saying that women need to be paid as much as men, it also means that I need to be paid as much as men. I somehow need to swallow that feeling that I’m being greedy, or that my sense of call is lessened if I ask for more money.

I’m far from getting it all figured out. But for now, I’m learning to be comfortable. And to be grateful in our abundant life.

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2 thoughts on “A failed ascetic

  1. “Calculating for asceticism.” That’s it! It’s not supposed to be that way, is it?

    Could it be that a true ascetic needs to have a zero balance–as in no debt?

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