Friday, August 07, 2009
Narrow Shoulder. Or, Don't Do a Dam Thing.
(Reading Time: 4 minutes)
At the beginning of the summer, I heard to a Haitian gentleman talk about the support that Americans could provide to third-world countries. He was the guest speaker at church. “Don’t feel guilty for all the good things you have,” he said. “But you are blessed so that you can bless others.”
I said “Amen” to that.
When the local pastor got up, he put it another way. “Give out of the margins of your life.” I liked that way of saying it. We often think of the margins as the less important spaces. They're the roadside shoulders we blow past. The margins are the luxury we have in our lives. Disposable income, weekends and vacations, square footage and acreage are all margins we have in our lives. They’re the buffer zones between the road and the ditch.
Just like on the highway, it’s often in the margins where we see those in need. And just like on the highway, we often bypass them. We see that luxury as our luxury, and we dismiss our responsibilities of managing those margins wisely.
Instead, we become the reservoir for all that excess. I know I do. It’s called my savings account. It’s my buffer zone. It’s my stress reliever. That savings account looks a lot like the Hoover Dam. Inside it is a flood of blessing, but I’m damming up, holding out. There’s a recession, I need to increase my margins, is my rationale.
So why do we dam up blessing like we do? Why do we build new barns? It’s easy to justify or, if nothing else, to ignore. I think part of the reason is that we begin to believe we deserve the margins, that we have rights to them.
With our financial margins, we invest for retirement and we save up for new cars, TVs, computers, or clothes. I do. With our margins of time, we schedule our weekends full of activities and plans. I do. With out margins of space, we clutter our houses with couches and guest bedrooms and entertainment centers. I do. We treat the margins like the rest of our lives. We get quite comfortable with them. We're used to them being there. We don't use the margins ourselves, but we get quite frustrated, quite indignant actually, if someone asks if they can have some of it. I resent them quite regularly.
There’s a name, in the Middle East, for a body of water that has no outlet. It’s called the Dead Sea.
Your bank account is God’s tangible blessing. Look at it. God’s in that. You’ve got problems? Go check your bank balance (you can do it from your phone!). But just like all that water in the Hoover Dam, if it’s just sitting there, it’s doing exactly one thing: evaporating. And you know what God's doing? God’s drawing it back up—slowly, imperceptibly, graciously—so that he can rain down blessing on other fields, giving other people opportunities to use it faithfully.
But if the water is flowing through the Hoover Dam, those blessings generate energy. It generates heat and light. Of course, the recipients of your blessings can waste it, but that’s not your problem.
Maybe you budget and know where your money goes. Hi, school bills, car payments, apartment rent. The size of each person's margin is different. But I'll bet there’s still a margin in there. There’s still a blessing in there. If not, then I'm not writing this for you. But if you do, then you have the opportunity. You could give to those who have no margin. You could be the blessing.
But instead we shrug our shoulders. As much from boredom as from a vague unease. The idea of being a blessing doesn't capture our imaginations. We don't consider that we could do anything with that money. We dream of books, vacations, games, concerts, movies, but we can't get even a little creative with the ways in which we could bless others. We find no joy in giving because we don't use our imaginations.
Or maybe it's fear, our hijacked imaginations. Maybe we're afraid to see our blessings get wasted on others. Maybe we're afraid of giving without getting back. Maybe we're afraid of being taken advantage of.
But maybe the people we blow past aren't themselves the burdens, but the blessings. Maybe the burdens weighing on our shoulders are really the blessings in our margins. But we shrug or shiver, with boredom or fear. And we readjust the blessings on our back, and carry them a little farther.
Posted by Adam at 9:02 AM