While driving home the other day, Allie asked me an unusual question. She said, “Papa, are we rich?” She had just asked about going to Disneyland again. But, telling her that we only go on special occasions, she commented on how it costs a lot of money. Some things do sink in to her :) She hasn’t quite grasped the reality of finances and the cost of things, but she is beginning to perceive the reality of paying for things.
This was an interesting question for me to answer. For one, I am trying to answer a 4-year old who has limited understanding about concepts like rich and poor. Further, it is a somewhat relative concept. Lastly, it depends on what we mean by being rich.
Wealth is a very relative term. In the US, for instance, the average income is around $50,000. Recently I noticed a chart that stated how families earning over $100,000 a year were in the top 20%. Many people I know in this bracket would likely not call themselves rich, even though they may be in the top 20% of the wealthiest nation on Earth. Compared to the rest of the world, we now that 1/3 of people live on less than $2 a day. Even for the median income in the US or Japan, they would be in the top 10-15%. Yet, a public school teacher would likely not classify themself as rich, even if they are living above 85% of everybody else.
Last week I noticed another chart for the highest and lowest salaries of college majors. In the top 10 were variations of engineering. In the bottom among the humanities and art were pastoral studies, theology, and religious studies. Nobody expects (or hopes) for a missionary to be associated with the label “rich.” As with some of the other majors, we didn’t go into our field for income potential but a desire to make a difference in lives of others or pursue what we are passionate about.
Even though our salary qualified us for housing assistance when we were back in the US, we feel incredibly blessed by God for His provision in our life. Though we don’t and likely won’t own a home, we are completely free from debt and have been able to fully pay off our credit card bills each month. Our girls have never had to miss a meal due to lack of money to buy food. One economist once said that you are rich if you never have to think about money. Thanks for our generous supporters, we truly are not anxious about money.
In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul encourages Timothy to be rich in good deeds and generosity. In this light, we hope to be a “rich” family that holds loosely to what we have, no matter how much it may be. Every time we welcome people over to our home, we are grateful to God allowing us to use our space and provide food for our guests. We hope our new church will become a place that is known for our generosity. This is a richness that all of us can attain, no matter our earning potential or bank account level.
As I responded to Allie, I tried to convey how we are not wealthy (especially in case she talks about this with friends as school), but blessed to have a nice place to live and have our needs met. While we may not be able to buy everything or go anywhere she wants, we will care for her needs and do our best to create great experiences and memories as a family. We also hope she feels “rich” in love and generosity to her friends, Japan, and the world. May you and your family also strive to be “rich” in this way.