In my life I've really struggled with feeling guilty for not being able to live out every virtue or imitate Christ perfectly. You'd think it would be obvious to me that this is impossible – I'm not sinless like the Blessed Mother, or Divine like Jesus. But I still desire to be better than I am and I know that perfectionism is one of my faults.
Poverty was one of the areas that confused me. As I was praying about the birth of Christ and how He put off the glories of heaven to come in poverty, I felt like in order to imitate Him in this way I must have to get rid of 75% of my closet.
But the truth is that's not what poverty means for me. As I prayed about it more through the years (yes, these things take me years to figure out sometimes . . . ) I came to understand how God wanted me to live out poverty and it wasn't getting rid of everything I own and sleeping on the floor.
That's not what my cross is; poverty means something different for me.
St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4, 'Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.' The reality is that for a lot of us the calling we have received requires us to have 'things' in order to carry out what God wants us to do and be who God has made us to be. It's different for everyone, because everyone has a different calling.
So what does poverty mean for me?
- I cannot make a false god out of money; I have to let God be God. I could spend hours worrying and crying over money, but for what good? God has always provided and He always will.
- I have to find happiness and peace in Christ who is within me, rather than the 'stuff' around me. It's so tempting to think that more things will make me happy. When I buy something cool it's exciting for (maybe) 3 days. The peace Jesus brings is never ending and it's not sold at the mall.
- I have to be grateful for every little blessing, because all good things come from above. God cares about all the little details of our lives. I am so much happier when I stop and thank Him for things like my every meal, paycheck, and the beauty of creation.
- I have to be careful to not buy more than I need. Check out this quote from St. Basil:
'The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.'
There are people whose cross is real and desperate poverty; and it's a heavy cross. We have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters who don't have enough food, water, clothing, or shelter. If I'm spending money I could give to the poor, that's not being responsible.
I can't be perfect . . . none of us can. I have to accept that I won't always practice the virtues and imitate Christ as well as I should. However, living in simplicity makes so much sense if I want to cling to God instead of my belongings.
What about you? Can I challenge you to pray about how God wants you to practice poverty according to your calling in life?
I'm praying for you.