How Are You Pretending?
Many years ago I read The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley, and it changed my perspective about personal finance. In this book, Stanley argues from a preponderance of data that most of the truly wealthy people in America are not the people who flaunt flashy status objects. They are your neighbors who you may not notice.
This is, of course, contrary to what many of us believe. Even if we understand the true measure of wealth (net worth), we are still visual people. Show up with a fancy car and shiny watch and nice clothes and we will all assume you're rich, even if you bought it all on credit.
Let's hear from Proverbs on this:
One pretends to be rich, but has nothing; another pretends to be poor, but has great wealth. (Proverbs 13:7)
I have always had a great level of respect for the modest person of great wealth. The man who could buy and sell everyone in the room yet blends in. I respect that.
Here is just one such person highlighted in The Millionaire Next Door:
The first time we interviewed a group of people worth at least $10 million (decamillionaires) the session turned out differently than we had planned. […] To make sure our decamillionaire respondents felt comfortable during the interview, we rented a posh penthouse on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side. We also hired two gourmet food designers. […] We wanted to make Mr. Bud feel that we fully understood the food and drink expectations of America’s decamillionaires. So after we introduced ourselves, one of us asked, “Mr. Bud, may I pour you a glass of 1970 Bordeaux?”
Mr. Bud looked at us with a puzzled expression on his face and then said: “I drink scotch and two kinds of beer-free and BUDWEISER!”
I can't help but like that guy. Free and Budweiser.
But we are just scraping the surface of the wisdom in Proverbs 13:7. Sure, we are talking about money and status objects. That's quite obvious. And the lesson we can learn at face value is that it's better to pretend to be poor and be rich than pretend to be rich and be poor.
But what about our souls?
Jesus praised the poor in spirit. And we might easily misinterpret what Jesus means by this term. I used to think Jesus meant the downtrodden Eeyore type, with eyes to the ground and slouched shoulders. Why, I wondered, did Jesus praise the moper?
He's not talking about the moper or the sad. He is talking about the person who understands their spiritual poverty. He is talking about the person who understands they are not bastions of righteousness, but rather barnacles of sin. The person who understands their spiritual poverty is a happy person indeed, for they can find great wealth in the Scriptures. the person who believes they are spiritually well off will remain self-assured and self-confident and thus will follow themselves into foolishness.
This makes me think of alcoholics. If you know someone who got sober after a long period of alcohol abuse, one thing is utterly clear: they are humble about it. They are thankful for their sobriety and their recovery. And what's more, a truly recovered alcoholic understands their predisposition to head right back toward the bottle for a relapse session - so they place safeguards in their lives to protect themselves from themselves.
So here is what we need to consider. In all ways, spiritual and financial and emotional and whatever else, how are we pretending? Are we quiet and content or are we loud and never satisfied? Do we obsess over portraying a certain image to others or do we obsess over caring for our souls?
If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, it still makes a sound. If you are wealthy and it isn't clear to the outside world, you are still blessed. If your heart is swollen with the sweetness of the grace of Christ and yet you remain poor in spirit, you are still healthy.
How are you pretending?