Tuesday, August 28, 2007
An Embarassment of Riches
It's hard to say where I am...well, where we are in terms of unity in our marriage. I'm struggling to discern God's design for me. On the one hand, I feel so strongly called to take care of the poor, but on the other, I've already made a commitment to take care of my marriage. I can't help one at the expense of the other.
Last week I ran an experiment. My husband and I had both watched the 60 Minutes documentary on Darfur, and we discovered that we fundamentally disagreed as to whether there was money in our budget for a donation. Rather than argue about whether we could afford it, I asked him what we could sacrifice. After some thought, he replied that he didn't want to make any sacrifices right now.
"You're kidding, right?"
"I know my limitations," he replied.
I was at a loss. We've had this discussion so many times and never get anywhere with it. So I simply said, "I'll find the money." And we went to bed. As I lay there praying and thinking, wondering how I could find an extra $100 without having the family sacrifice anything, it occurred to me that I spend $106 every week on groceries. (I don't really know how that number comes about; it just happens to be the total every time the cashier rings me up.)
I wondered...could I go a whole week without grocery shopping? What did we have? There was ground beef in the freezer, a cornish hen from when I bought three and only two would fit in the crock pot at a time, some homemade chicken soup I'd frozen months ago, a head of broccoli, some green beans, 1/2 an eggplant, a red pepper or two, a bag of carrots, a couple onions, 6 eggs and plenty of rice, beans, condiments, pasta and spices. Would it last a week?
I realized right away I'd have to buy something. Every morning my husband has a bowl of cereal with banana, and every afternoon he has an apple with peanut butter. I'd have to buy milk, apples and peanut butter or he would definitely feel that he was sacrificing. And the point was to do something for Darfur without affecting my family. Ideally, I would come to him after a week and say, "I didn't grocery shop this week. We did okay, didn't we? How about we give the money we saved to Darfur?"
I don't know whether to characterize it as hard or not. It was different. Almost immediately, I started to run out of things. Chili powder. Butter. Flour. Onions. Sugar. Eggs. Tomatoes. We'd invited guests for dinner on Friday night, so I had to entertain in the middle of this whole experiment. Overall, it was a success -- we ate a balanced, healthy, satisfying meal every night and I provided my husband with lunch to take to work every day. We were never hungry. It wasn't until Monday when he ran out of cereal that I brought him in on the whole idea, and he agreed to eat oatmeal for three days until I next went to the store.
I did things I'd never done before, like grate up a broccoli stalk and add it to chicken broth for our lunch. Normally I just throw the stalks out. Instead of cheese and crackers for a midafternoon snack, I popped some corn kernels. I substituted for lots of things I didn't have and tried new recipes when my usual ones wouldn't work. The thing that struck me the most was how much of my time I spent worrying about food, and how diligent I was at conserving it. I sat down at the start of the week and took stock of everything we had to plan out the menu. It didn't allow for any deviation. Monday's meal was crock pot beef bourguignon with a handful of green beans and the remaining 1/2 bag of egg noodles. So I couldn't touch any of that until Monday, even though Sunday's dinner could have used it.
And in so many ways, God provided. I'd planned to attend a prayer rally at my church on Saturday night. They advertised a "light supper" in between the 5:30 Mass and the speaker, so I planned it into our week. No cooking Saturday night. We'd just make do with whatever they served. Hot dogs? Pasta salad? Cheese and fruit? I hoped it'd be enough to satisfy our family and count as a meal. To my astonished delight, the Indonesian community at our parish prepared a feast for us. We had skewered chicken with peanut satay sauce, beef and vegetable crepes, rice with sweet soy sauce, salad, meatball soup, and cupcakes for desert. Not just enough food...bountiful, delicious, remarkable food. I was so grateful to God I nearly cried.
We only made it through the week, of course, because we had so much food already in the house. I think more than anything, it turned out to be a statement about how blessed we are. Even when my fridge is empty, my cupboards are still full. If we had to, we could have gone on longer, but at that point we would definitely have been compromising the nutritional content of our dinners.
Yet the success of the week wasn't the whole point of the experiment. Overarching the entire thing was my hope that it would set up another dialogue with my husband about giving to charity and where that fits into our lives. On that front, the week was less than successful.
When we talked about it, my husband agreed we could give $100 to Darfur. I'm grateful for that, and encouraged by it. But I don't know where we go from here. It's not like any time I want to give to charity I can just stop grocery shopping for a week. Besides the fact that it requires considerable reserves (and the intervention of my parish's Indonesian community) my husband doesn't consider it "saved money." To him, there is no difference between spending $50 on a skirt and spending $40 on a skirt then giving $10 to charity. We're out $50. I can't argue with his math, obviously, because that's fact. But to me, if our budget allows $50 for clothing, then buying something on sale should allow us to spend the extra on something else. Charity, for instance.
Without taking paragraphs and paragraphs to detail our fruitless, circular discussions, I'll just say that my husband feels the only things we should be spending money on right now are necessary items. However, he and I disagree on what constitutes a necessary item. In the interest of unity, and for the sake of my marriage, I want to resolve this in a way that makes both of us happy. I know we are a partnership, and therefore I can't force him to do something he doesn't want to do, but is it right for him to prevent me from the exercise of my faith?
Because that's what this is. God calls all of us to care for the poor. Stewardship is as much a requirement of my faith as Mass attendance and adherence to the doctrines of the Church. I don't know what the middle ground may be, but I know in my heart that it's not right for me to simply give up. I'm praying about this, asking God to help me discern what is pride and what is truth, for Mary and St. Elizabeth of Hungary to intercede for me, for Christ (who showed unflagging love and consideration for the poor while he was on Earth) to show me His way, and for the Holy Spirit to guide my words. I trust that God will find a way and give me the strength to follow it.