Life on a budget

I was talking with my friend about getting rid of toys.  She was amazed when I told her that we’d gotten rid of like half of our toys before moving here.  She bemoaned the fact that her husband was reluctant to get rid of toys because he knew they’d spent a lot of money on them.  I reminded her that there was also a cost on her soul to keep things.  And if the cost on her soul was too much, she needed to talk to her husband about getting rid of some things.  Because where we live is expensive.

Now, you might pull up a cost of living analysis of the Navajo Reservation and say, “If I only had to pay that much in rent and utilities, I would be ecstatic!”  I get it.  In easily measurable ways (like a monetary budget), where we live is dirt cheap.  However, there is a different cost of living here- the cost to our souls.

What do I mean by soul?  I am talking about the whole of a person- mind, body, emotions, everything that makes you yourself.  Our soul resources are then everything that we have within ourselves to use to interact with our environment, our situation.  Some situations are not very taxing to who we are, not soul-expensive.  Often, that’s when we feel like we are thriving.  Other situations are expensive- a lot of who we are seems to be eaten up just doing what we do every day.  Our everyday stressors overwhelm the resources that are naturally in ourselves.  That can be evidence in anxiety, depression, anger, physical health problems, sleep disturbances, impaired relationships, and a host of other things.  These are soul crises.

The Navajo Reservation is very soul-expensive.  Hurts are massive and generational.  Resources are few.  There is a good deal of ugly that is marring the beautiful visual environment.  And this isn’t just experienced among the Native population.  I recognize that this is an expensive place to live for the white community also.  Services are few and far between.  You might have to wait a month and drive 3 hours to get your child’s ears cleaned out enough to be able to see if his tubes are still in.  Often people live far from family, so help is more difficult to come by.  And you have to drag all your kids to every far-flung, long-waiting doctor appointment.  Does your soul feel tired reading that?  Living cross-culturally is costly even when it is worth it.

Many of us are used to the idea of living on a fiscal budget.  We know that monetary resources are concrete and limited, so we make intentional choices about what we use them on and what we say no to.  We at least understand this concept.  Also, there is a big movement in Christian circles about using budgets to allow us financial freedom- that Christians who are not bankrupt are more free to follow Jesus and bring Him glory.  This is a good movement!

I am understanding more now the idea of soul bankruptcy. That you can spend more of your resources than you are bringing in.  I think that I grew up feeling like saying yes to giving of myself was the only godly answer.  However, just like there are more good causes to give money to than there is money in any budget, there are more good things to say yes to than there are soul resources.  And giving out without consideration can lead us to a crisis of soul.  Bankruptcy.

Especially when our expenses change.  Like I said before, I have moved to an expensive place.  Not only that, but the extra soul income that I had been making in Silver City (theater, teaching, friendships, see Dreams Come True) has been cut off.  I have many of the same expenses (children, housework, soul expenses intrinsic to be being alive) without the income that I once had.  I used up my saved resources, leaving me in a soul crisis.  Yikes.

Unfortunately, the solution is not easy.  Yes, “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).  That is true both financially and emotionally.   God provides each dollar that goes into my bank account- He also supplies each drop that goes into my soul account.  While no one would feel guilty about going to work instead of just waiting for money to drop in their hands after reading the Bible, many people believe that if they must do anything more than praying to supply their soul, they are engaging in idolatry.  God supplies all my needs; I am asked to be a steward of the resources He gives  me.  Just as it brings God glory to wisely manage your fiscal income and expenses, it glorifies Him when we use discretion about bringing  in and pouring out emotional resources.

Fresh-squeezed lemonade for only $.50! Made and sold by adorable children

So this summer, my kids really wanted a lemonade stand.  And we are not talking powdered drink here- we are talking buying bags of lemons, squeezing them by hand, making sugar syrup, and pureeing different fruit to add to it.  I’m on board.  They then wanted to charge $0.50 for a cup.  Okay.  This is an investment in an experience, not a money-making venture.  Afterwards, one of the kids suggested that we do this regularly to supplement our income (they are very aware that we don’t eat out often).

Nope.  Not gonna work.  That’s a lot of investment, both with time and money, for very little payout.  Not wise.

I think many times we have trouble showing wisdom in our self-care, a wise way to supplement our soul resources.  If we do manage to invest in self-care, we are doing things that have a short-term benefit.

My friend Amanda calls this a sprinkle rather than a drenching.  She obviously lives in this desert with me.  She was describing to me how some of her self-care things, like getting a pedicure, had very short-term impact.  It was enough to dampen her dry surface, but not enough to actually penetrate to her soul.  For that, she needed things that went deeper, that drenched her and saturated her soul.  And she had to be intentional about spending her self-care time in things that would actually do that.

So how can we accomplish effective self-care?  How do we create margin in our soul budget?  One way is to be intentional and recognize what is costing us.  Is the clutter in your house costing your soul?  Maybe the noise?  Maybe the clutter in your schedule- all the things and activities that you say yes to.  Perhaps a relationship.  Maybe spending most of your time in a house with children void of adult interaction.  Recognize that there is an expense to all things.  Spend your resources on the things that are of most value to you and best accomplish your goals.  It may be that you have to cut some things out.  And just like any budget, you have to cut out things that aren’t bad things- they are just more of an expense than you can afford.  In Silver, I cut out soccer teams.  This is not a bad thing, but it was really expensive to my soul.  My kids are currently involved in zero after-school activities.  Because they will cost me too much, and I am living with limited resources.

We also may need to look at our supply.  First, are you doing the self-care of spending time in your relationship with God?  That’s a vibrant source of income (see Popsicles Solve Problems about dehydrated children and souls).  This is the primary source.  And in some periods of life when we are in an expensive situation, we also need to be intentional about tapping into the other resources He’s provided.  Does art and creativity fill your soul?  Spend your resources there.  Is it hearing only the sounds of nature or seeing gentle stillness?  Find it and spend time on it.  Does service to others?  Volunteer.  Fixing visually distracting space?  Solve that problem.  How about delving into stories?  Carve out time for them.  Talking with a friend who you can be vulnerable with and still feel fully loved?  Call me and come over for coffee.  Getting down your thoughts onto a computer screen so you can share with others?  Leave that laundry unfolded and blog, baby, blog!

Dad mountain
Few things fill me up more than hiking up a mountain with my dad.

These are gifts God has provided- ways to help us avoid bankruptcy!  As we are responsible with our soul resources, we give Him glory!  So stop feeling guilty about self-care!  That depletes us again!  Engage mindfully in ways that will give you the highest pay-out.

While Christ didn’t model creating a budget for us, He did model self-care.  He took time to be by Himself (Mark 6:46); He chose to spend alternative resources to accomplish tasks faster (Mark 6:30-52); He even slept on a boat while others did the work in a crisis (Luke 8:22-23)!  Since Jesus Himself engaged in self-care, the guilt we feel about spending some resources there, the thought that I should just be able to buck up and dig a little deeper into myself, is not heavenly but from some other source (hint: from one who would love to see Christians live depleted lives).

Galatians 5-1 Just like you can be enslaved by debt, you can be enslaved by having zero soul resources left.  Let us be intentional about avoiding bankruptcy.  Let us be intentional about seeing ourselves as a limited resource.  Then we will have the freedom to choose to invest ourselves in ways that will have the greatest impact on the Kingdom of God.

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