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Where Your Treasure Is

Susan Mettes, Associate Editor at CT magazine, writes:

I have a clear early memory of first learning to ride a bike. When I had finally found enough balance for a few seconds of forward movement, my beloved brother toddled into my path. There was plenty of room for both of us on the sidewalk, but I mowed the little guy down and we both fell onto the lawn, sobbing.

Now I know that the reason I couldn’t avoid him was something called “target fixation,” which means that we aim for what we’re focusing on—no matter how much we consciously try to avoid it.

Jesus keeps telling us to take our eyes off money. In many places—including in the church today—we see people falling into the trap of requiring more and more of it to feel good. But on the flip side, we too often think that the change we must make is from lusting after money to avoiding money. However, thrift can also become a target we fixate on, disorienting us, and leading us to crash right back into Mammon.

Jesus’ words to his followers showed his disapproval of hoarding money, making wealth the capstone of a life, and believing that money will make us safe. But we sometimes miss another aspect of Jesus’ teachings: the importance of where we focus our attention.

As Christians around the world live through a period of discomfort in their household budgets, even thrift can bring them dangerously close to the errors often attributed to greed. Thrift can make austerity seem like a virtue for all times.

One story of the early church says that a fourth-century monk, Macarius, got a bunch of grapes and sent them to another monk, who sent them to another, and so on. Each craved the grapes, but none ate them. They eventually returned to Macarius, who still didn’t eat them. The monks had proved their ability to deny themselves.

Such denial can be a response to a belief that possessions are hot potatoes, things to be divested of before they ruin us. But far from solving an obsession with money and possessions, this form of living on as little as possible can result in miserliness.

Author Lucinda Kinsinger says, “If you’re focusing on thrift for the sake of being thrifty, you’ll just end up being a tightwad. If our focus is being a good steward, then we’re in a good place.”

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