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Wealth is an elusive reality. Typically, we think of folks with mega millions disclosed in a variety of homes, yachts, lavish vacations and lifestyles that defy description. We may also conjure images of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett and others of their ilk. More familiarly, the names of local philanthropists emerge, both with a smile and a tiny bit of envy or even rancor.
Whoever comes to mind is usually a person possessing monetary riches...the “fat cats” of our society. They quickly become persons of interest. We are intrigued by them, fascinated by their apparently luxurious lifestyle and wondering how their finances affect them.
We compare our less lavish life with theirs, for good or ill. Without real knowledge of who these folks are, what they treasure, how they dispense with their wealth, we judge, label, and categorize them, and then go on with our lives, uninterrupted and unchallenged.
I propose we give thought to the fact wealth is composed of more than material prosperity. We are wealthy in a multitude of ways, some unique to each of us. Children have an abundance of energy and curiosity. Teens sport a bonanza of questions. Twenty-somethings boast a stock of creative ideas. Young marrieds have a bounty of wonderment about life, children and family. Retirees have a plenitude of time. The elderly possess a fortune of wisdom. The poor have the treasure of realizing our human interdependence. All are wealthy, in one way or another.
The question to be addressed is both simple and complicated. It calls for an assessment of our wealth and an analysis of its value. Trusting that we are all wealthy, we are all recipients of God’s graciousness, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of wealth?”
Wealth’s purpose cannot be security for that is intangible and ambiguous. The purpose of wealth, it has been said, is reckless generosity. The words strike at my heart.
Generosity is an attainable value, a lifestyle I could emulate. To describe that benevolence as reckless raises the bar to a height from which I can easily stumble. My generosity is often quite calculated. Can I afford to do more than the minimal tithe? In what ways will my giving of time and talent have an impact on my own need for space and quiet?
The questions restrain, if not retrain, my sense of recklessness. They impede my generosity and provide rationale for being less human and doing less for humanity. I find myself opting to be the prodigal daughter rather than the prodigious giver.
Rather than root about in the muck and mire of my self-consciousness, I picked up a book written by Jean Stanley, a local author now deceased. It had been sitting on my library shelf for a long time, one of those “I’ll get around to it” works.
When I first rifled through the pages, I thought the stories were nice but nothing I’d dig into. But, in his usual fashion, Hubby Dear absconded with the book and began his daily proclamations of its worth, of its powerful wealth portrayed in simple, everyday tales of love.
The book revealed the depth of its author, a woman I knew slightly but whose friendship I only discovered postmortem. She was a tiny person, easily overlooked or misunderstood, except by the students who blossomed under her tutelage. That should have been a clue to her deep compassion, her profound understanding of the bounty to be discovered in simple acts of love.
Descriptions of those loving actions fill the pages of her work. “This, too, is love” is the mantra revealed on each page, a holy wealth she chose to share, a reckless generosity that lives long after her own death.
To my knowledge, Jean was not a wealthy woman in the classic understanding of those words. She did not possess an abundance of material goods. What she owned she saw as gifts to be shared. Where knowledge was sought, she offered wisdom. Where discouragement was felt, she provided a dauntless spirit. Aspiring writers gained from her own journey into the world of words. She did not simply lead them. She walked with them, hand in hand. There was no room for resentment or smallness of spirit. There was only reckless generosity. Like the women of Scripture who are described as giving out of their own resources, Jean gave and gave until she had nothing left to give except her smiling presence. If only I had recognized it when it was there for me.
It is not too late for acknowledgment. It is not too late for me to make Jean’s gift a real presence today. Nor is it too late for you. We can take stock of the treasure we are as well as the wealth we have been given. We can ask ourselves the hard question, “For what purpose have I been so fortunate, so gifted, so rich in time, talent and treasure?”
We can teach ourselves how to give to others with reckless generosity. The ways are as varied as we are different. We need only begin the process of prioritizing life and eliminating the horror of hoarding our time and energy, refusing to bury ourselves in mounds of things we really never look at or need.
Before we can rid ourselves of excess baggage, we need to recognize we have been accumulating it. More importantly, we need to admit the accumulation has occurred so we can prove to ourselves we have worth, value, power, status, position. We must come to the realization our existence is the only wealth that counts. What we do with who we are is our prime concern. The title of Jean Stanley’s book says it well: “That’s Love, Too—Small Acts, Simple Gestures.”
From that point, we can adjust our decisions regarding volunteerism, family needs, community and church needs, recreational time that truly is a re-creation and workplace demands. We will also come to understand that our absence as well as our presence is notable. We will know, as if for the first time, the purpose of our wealth resides in the wealth of our purpose.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives” [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. Reach her at email@example.com.