How I Became Satisfied with Less
by Debra White Smith
During the latter half of my childhood, my family was poor. My father started pastoring a small church, and the parsonage didn’t have much. Our basic needs were met. Food. Water. Clothing. Shelter. In contrast, my peers were lavished with material possessions. This caused me to make one firm decision. I would be a wealthy adult. Period. By the time I was twenty, if you gave me three nickels, I could save four. I began hoarding my money. What I didn’t hoard I spent on status items that would bring me recognition among my peers and give me feelings of worth. Nice cars, diamond rings, designer clothing, fancy furniture. We were at middle income level, but I felt smug in my materialistic accomplishments and “arrived” at church every Sunday ready to impress anyone who noticed my possessions. Despite my smugness, I heard an inner voice that demanded more purchases, more money, more luxury to fill an ever-increasing void.
I also heard a softer voice – one that whispered there must be more to life than materialism. That softer voice led me on a journey that revolutionized my life. This journey began when I was 31 years old, when I began to regularly and seriously seek God – not just through obligatory prayers that had characterized my former devotional time, but by actually seeking God.
My “altar” was my bathtub – the only place I could go to escape my toddler. Leaving my husband in charge, I went into the bathroom, locked the door, and sat on the side of the bathtub almost every night. I read Scripture and sought God. “Please, God, I want to see You moving in my life,” I prayed one whole autumn. Changes began to take place within me. God led me into confession, repentance, restitution and righteousness. I was surprised by contentment! He also led me down a path I never anticipated. During a church service, I began to feel the overwhelming urge to give half of what I made from my career as a writer to those in need. I resisted that feeling with a vengeance. After that service, I convinced myself that I had been half-crazy to even have such a thought. Between my husband’s job and my writing career, we were still middle income, so giving more than my tithe shouldn’t even have been an issue.
I scrapped the whole idea. But it came back again and again every time I was in church. Through daily living, I stifled the feeling that I should give sacrificially, but I could not stifle that feeling in church. To top it off, one Bible verse haunted me, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Luke 18:22 NKJV). If God asked me to give everything I owned to the poor, would I obey?
I enjoyed my stuff too much to sacrifice it for anybody. I began to realize, sitting there on the side of my bathtub, that perhaps I wouldn’t see God, really see Him, until He meant more to me than my material possessions and money. That haunting voice that had led me into seeking God confirmed my realization.
I began to fight these feelings. If I started giving sacrificially, if I started prioritizing the needs of the poor in my heart, I would have to say “no” to some of my materialistic wants and dreams. I would have to totally change my thought patterns. I would have to deny that voice within that said the more I owned the more worthy I would be. No more luxury car, no more fancy home, furniture or clothing, no more diamonds. The notion almost sent me into a tailspin.
My husband and I were planning an international adoption. God began whispering to me to give away my adoption fund. Would I be willing to help other couples adopt children and deny my own dreams of adoption? Those other orphans couldn’t be as important as the child we would adopt. Then I learned of a Russian orphanage that was struggling to keep the electricity and phone connected. Would I dare delve into the money I had hoarded to meet the needs of children I would probably never see?
After an intense, internal struggle, I did it. This decision began my journey from materialistic selfishness to selflessness. After several instances of sacrificial giving, I put up less resistance to that overwhelming, supernatural urgency that I should give until it hurt. By then, my “bathtub devotions” had moved to the couch. In my heart, I was on my face before God when I told Him I would give what He said when He said to whom He said.
This resulted in some radical action. I remembered Luke 3:11, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none.” This is 50 percent giving. After another vicious struggle, I gave away half of my beloved wardrobe to a friend who had prayed for clothing. These were the status clothes I had worn – the designer clothing, my absolute favorites, the items I most likely would never be able to replace because of my new standard of giving. The act of giving them was like having my insides ripped out. But God showed me that when I had given things I didn’t want or need to someone less fortunate, I was not giving – I was discarding. After the wardrobe purge, I still had a closet full of clothing. My need – not my want – for clothing was met.
I was content with that. According to Mother Teresa, “You must give what will cost you something. This, then, is giving not just what you can live without but what you can’t or don’t want to live without. Then your gift becomes a sacrifice which has value before God.”
Soon, I began to be spiritually nauseated by the diamonds on my fingers. Every time I wore them, I could only think, “I let my husband waste thousands of dollars on rings that have no use except satisfying my greed and impressing others.” I began to think about the millions of children who have no food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care. Who was I to hoard luxuries when human beings in my own city lacked necessities? I stopped wearing the diamonds.
What started as my ‘bathtub’ search for God opened my eyes to see needs in new ways and in many places – all around me at church, in my neighborhood, in my family, overseas. I began giving on a higher level. God began a marvelous, deep work in me. I awoke one day to realize I was truly contented with my middle income home. I was contented with my used economy car. I was excited about the prospect of sacrificially giving to feed the hungry, to educate the poor, to help the blind see. Furthermore, I felt more worthy than I had ever felt.
Materialism is a universal problem. A missionary to Africa was asked to relate the biggest problem he saw among the tribes. He replied, “Materialism. If one villager gets a new roof on his hut, his neighbors writhe with envy until they can acquire a new roof.”
Christ has not called us to accumulate things for ourselves. He has called us to sacrifice our wants for the needs of others. While some Christians lead materialistic lifestyles, thousands around the world suffer from malnutrition, blindness, disease and premature death. According to Alan Harkey, president of Christian Blind Mission International, “Each year an estimated 500,000 children go blind, primarily due to malnutrition. More than half of these children die within two years of losing their sight.” For the cost of three Vitamin A tablets – seventy-five cents – a child’s blindness can often be prevented. Even so, 500,000 children go blind every year.
There is a vast difference between having a Christian belief system and living for Christ. Christ said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24 NKJV). Denying ourselves replaces the blare of consumerism with a melody of holiness.
After we lose ourselves and our possessions completely to Him, we will find ourselves (Matt. 10:39). We find our worth in Him.
Reprinted from The War Cry, Oct. 16, 1999. Used with permission.