"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
- Colossians 3:2
When the stock market headed downward this month, following an unusually long "running of the bulls," panic spread along Wall Street like a California wildfire. And somewhere in my memory file, I recalled a previous mini market crash, and the unexpected reaction from a prominent newscaster at the time.
With pundits assessing cause and casting blame, the newsman put the country's financial crisis in perspective.
"Who cares about the stock market?" he said. Referring to a recent rash of crimes against children, he added, "Aren't those missing and murdered children more important than this?"
I might have expected as much from my pastor or from a Christian broadcaster, but from a secular newsman, when the stock market was the only topic on everyone else's lips?
I was encouraged. Oh, not by the financial downturn or the acts of an evil few - but because someone of this man's stature had the courage to express his own priorities.
My reaction to these events may have come from an attempt to follow the Biblical advice,"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matthew 6:19), or from identifying with the Apostle Peter and his reply to the beggar at the temple gate, "Silver and gold have I none" (Acts 3:6). Of course, the "lay not up treasures" part could be just a cop-out for my frequent lack of "silver and gold." Would I have more angst about the shaky market if I had more to lose?
Though I'll never reach St. Paul's claim to be content "no matter what state I am in" (Philippians 4:11), the recent market volatility caused me to make changes in my "contentment portfolio."
The first "stock" I had to sell was "the blame game." Hardly anyone writing about the declining market numbers today omits blaming somebody for "the mess we're in," usually the current political administration or the last. Though I have some thoughts on the economy in general, the blame I needed to divest was personal.
For example, when I'm scrounging to pay for my latest round of car repairs, it's easy to blame a departing husband, rising prices or the underestimation of my worth by those who determine my income. After a struggle, I was able to exchange this investment for a large share of Philippians 4:19: "But my God shall supply all (my) need."
Next went "the principle of the inclined plane," the belief that what starts rising, or improving in my life, is supposed to continue moving only in that direction. It was easy to let go of this stock after watching a child blow up a balloon. The rhythm went something like this: blow, pause to check size, gloat over "what I did," repeat - until the balloon bursts. I bought a few more shares of Matthew 6:19 and reluctantly let go of some of that stock in "earthly treasures."
Next I let go of the commodity, "I deserve more than this." My cue to sell this stock came from a report about the already-retired having to return to work. Perhaps I'd have been more sympathetic if it hadn't been for the man who retired in his 30s, but now has to go back to work at age 50.
But my story wouldn't attract much sympathy, either. Single again in my 40s, I thought I could take on a couple more part-time jobs, then become debt-free by age 60 and spend my golden years traveling and indulging my grandchildren. I haven't met either goal yet, and perhaps I never will. But realizing that the pleasures of family, plus work I enjoy interspersed with an occasional journey have been more than sufficient for my needs, I ordered a few more shares of Philippians 4:19.
Finally, I let go of my holdings in "misplaced trust." The difference between laying up treasures on earth and storing them in heaven (Matthew 6:20) is like comparing even the most well-meaning human promise with what Jesus said just before he returned to heaven. Had he been only human he might have said, "Lo, I'll look out for you when I can, when I'm not busy with other things, or when it's convenient for me." What he did say was this: "And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).
Not many earthly treasure-sellers can promise dividends like that.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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