On the Tightrope

Guilt. Anger. They seem to be popping up a lot lately. Not in my life, but in other peoples'. A conversation with a friend here, a blog post there. The recurring theme seems to be that people feel guilt and anger over having so much when most of the rest of the world has so little. They feel awful every time they spend money, because all they can think about are the people who are dying of hunger. I just sit there, listening and nodding, and thinking 'been there, done that, got the T-shirt'.

The process began more than a year ago...in Africa...

I really wasn't surprised by the poverty I saw in Moz. I was expecting to see it. I was more startled by the joy and life I saw springing up in the midst of, to my western mind, unthinkable circumstances. But, the fact remained that I did encounter a lot of people who were in very legitimate need. I did my best to help them. I'm sure that my tiny efforts barely made a dent, but I tried to be faithful to do whatever God lay on my heart - a little money here, a loaf of bread there - and that was that. And I came home. And went through horrible culture shock.

I had been warned that I would probably go through re-entry shock, but I simply was not prepared for the barrage of thoughts and emotions that hit me full force and bowled me over. The opulence of American life sickened me. I was astounded that anyone could complain about a power outage, or food that wasn't quite to their taste, or water that wasn't hot enough, or internet that wasn't fast enough. I was convinced that I'd come to a land full of spoiled rotten pigs...and I was terrified that I'd become one of them. Yes, I know that sounds extreme. I felt pretty extreme back then.

It wasn't long until I fell into the trap of guilt and anger. I could feel myself adjusting to the new-old lifestyle. I was afraid it would only be a matter of time before I started taking my luxuries for granted and forgetting how people on the other side of the world live. I fought against it. I felt selfish when I spent money on myself. I felt horrible that I was living in luxury while other people had barely enough to eat. I kept flogging myself with 'how can I spend this money...wear these clothes...eat this food...live this life...when I know there are so many others who can have even half of what I have?' I was furious at myself.

My concerns were valid ones. They were all good things to think about. I believe America would be a much better place if all its citizens had to go through this process at least once in their lives. Poverty and hunger and disease are real, and we should never, ever get so caught up in our luxury that we forget about the people who are in need. But there's a fine line (more like a tightrope) between awareness and guilty frustration. Awareness leads to action. Guilt leads to paralysis, or, more frequently, to the wrong kind of action. It also leads to a lot of self-hatred, which, in its turn, causes estrangement from everyone close to you. Walking the tightrope is hard, but it's a stunt everyone needs to learn. And practice daily.

Like I had to.

I had to realize that guilt and anger were babyish, useless, and were getting me nowhere. Nowhere good, that is.

One day, I had to wake up to the fact that I don't live in Africa. I live in America. And it was high time I stopped whining and beating myself up and started actually living.

Now, please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that I want to conform to every aspect of American culture. My eyes are very much open to the negative side of American society. I do not want to become integrated into a culture that embraces so much wrong. But honestly, is guilt-tripping myself over some new clothes, a few craft supplies, or a box of good tea really productive? I don't think so!

My time and money aren't actually mine. They belong to God. I'm merely in charge of using them as He directs. Many times, he directs me to meet peoples' needs, and I try to be very faithful to do that. He also directs me to spend a portion of those resources on myself.

Is that sinful or wrong?

God chose me to be born in America, in a safe environment, with many luxuries. That wasn't my choice, it was His. My job is to find out why He put me where He did. I believe that part of the reason is so I can use my resources to bless others. I also believe that my current state of prosperity is a reward and a blessing. Psalm 41: 1-2 says 'Happy is one who cares for the poor; the Lord will save him in the day of adversity. The Lord will keep Him and preserve him; he will be blessed in the land.' God brought me to that verse when times were hard and I wasn't sure where money for any of my little expenses was coming from. Now, I regard it as a call to worship and thanksgiving. I have been faithful to care for the poor, even when I didn't feel that I had enough, and God is blessing me for it beyond my wildest dreams. Am I supposed to waste my life feeling guilty because I am blessed? I don't want to sit around and selfishly squander my blessings, but they're here for me to enjoy as a testament to God's power and faithfulness. And I intend to enjoy them.

I'll never be a big spender. I'll never live an opulent lifestyle. I pray that I'll never stop feeling God's heartache for a lost and dying world. I'm perfectly okay with shopping the bargain racks and thrift stores for my clothes, doing without extras and luxuries, living without modern conveniences, and eating economically. I even enjoy the challenge of these things. But I also enjoy the luxury items like chewing gum, and new clothes, and restaurants, and a book or CD now and again. I'm enjoying the blessing of being able to afford those things. If God one day asks me to live somewhere else, or to stay here and live on more restricted means, I'm very much ready for that. But in the meantime, I'm planning to live my life joyfully and open-handedly, in the knowledge that right here, right now, is where God wants me. I'm going to continue to follow His direction in deciding how to use my resources. And I'm going to embrace the blessings, as well as the challenges, of life in America. 


  1. Very, very, very well said. I'm really glad you have been able to come to that realization, I am very familiar with the whole process you described and I have come to pretty much the same conclusion. I agree that it's a helpful mindset once you get past the guilty-for-spending-$1 stage, and I'm glad you have been able to get to that point. Help those you can and enjoy God's blessings ('cause you're his kid, and He actually likes you and wants you to be happy).

    1. Thanks for the comment! I definitely enjoy having a little bit extra so I know that I can help people if they need it.

  2. Janie, I thoroughly appreciate this Chronicle. I am so thankful that you have gotten to this point in your walk with the Lord. He wants us to have joy and peace and contentment. He also wants us to share with others as He directs. Thank you so much for sharing.


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