Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Really Did Grow Up to Be a Princess


When I was a little girl, I often imagined I was a princess.  I loved the idea of being able to have anything I wanted.  I had only one Cabbage Patch doll, while a girl in my class had sixteen.  In my imaginary palace, I had a whole room full of them.

What I didn't realize is that I already was nobility, and I still am.

After all, I am one of the top 1% richest people in the world, even on a missionary's salary.  If you make over $30,000 a year, you are too.  If that's not a princess, I don't know what is.

Growing up, I never felt wealthy in America.  My parents lived on the "undesirable" side of town.  My family never had a new car.  My parents wouldn't buy me a senior class ring.  A girl in my class received $150 a month for her allowance.  I had to work for the $20 a month that I received.

It didn't change as an adult.  When I was teaching kindergarten and Gil was in seminary, it seemed everyone had more than me.  I drove a dumpy little Hyundai.  Gil and I have never owned a house, and our apartment was full of used furniture.  Everyone else had nicer clothes, fancy kitchens with marble counter tops, weekly pedicures, and gym memberships.  I felt...poor.  And I felt kind of sorry for myself.

Then I moved to Tanzania.  We moved into a modest-sized house, average for California...but most Tanzanians live in one room.  We have electricity and indoor plumbing, which puts us in the top 10% of residents.  We own one 1999 Toyota mini-van, but the vast majority of Tanzanians are lucky to have even a bike.  I have a college education, when only 5% of Tanzanians finish high school.

Suddenly, I was a princess.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a Tanzanian friend about her financial struggles.  She has a sixth grade education.  She receives $100 a month from her job, plus whatever else she can make selling charcoal.  She supports three young children and a good-for-nothing husband who continually cheats on her. Twenty percent of her income goes to childcare, so that she can work.  Ten percent goes to her daughter's (supposedly free) public school education.  At least sixty percent of her salary goes towards food.  She lives in two rooms, cooks outside, and walks a few blocks to bring home water.  Her life, in Tanzania, is average.  She's not even considered the poorest of the poor.

Living here has done wonders for my level of contentment.  Sure, there are still people around me who are much richer than I am.  Not everyone in Tanzania is poor!  But when the vast majority is scratching by on so much less, suddenly my 1999 mini-van looks like a queen's carriage.  The air conditioner in my bedroom puts me in a palace.  The never-ending supply of food in my refrigerator, the trips to the beach, the occasional dinner at a restaurant--all put me in the category of The Privileged.

In America, it was much harder to see myself this way.  I was constantly bombarded by advertisements, shopping malls, and friends' houses, all telling me that I wanted more, deserved more, needed more.  In a country where even food stamp recipients get $400 a month, it's easy to feel poor.

I've noticed that whenever I feel discontent with what I have, it's because I am comparing up.  He has a nicer house than me.  She had a better vacation than I will ever have.  Why does she have that, and I don't?  American commercialism, in general, encourages this.

But if the statistics are true, and Americans hold half of the world's wealth, and anyone who makes $30,000 a year is in the top 1%.....well, then shouldn't we be comparing down?  It may seem that everyone around us has more than us, when in reality, in the grand scope of the world, we are the ones who have more....than pretty much everyone else.

I'm not about feeling guilty for being rich.  And I've written many times before on what I think us rich people should do with all our wealth.  Today, I'm just thinking about contentment.  About entering this holiday season with the perspective of someone who is one of the richest people in the world.  Instead of comparing up, comparing down.  Americans spend more on Halloween than the entire world spends on malaria in a year.  Americans spend $465 billion on Christmas every year, and only $6.3 billion to fight AIDS overseas.

Someday, just like the servant who received 10 talents, I'll have to stand before God and give account of how I spent my money.  I think He'll expect me to own up to being rich.  At the very least, I can start with being content with what He has given me.  After all, there's not much more that's disturbing than an ungrateful, dissatisfied princess.

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