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Rust and sweat: Making money and the slavery of things

My father always told me that work wasn’t about having fun or making money; it was about being of service to people. That’s a very godly perspective to have, and I try to keep that attitude, but my dad actually made good money doing what he did, and I, well, I have always made enough, but never much more.

Possibly because of my horribly misspent youth, or maybe there were other mysteries at play, it took me quite a while to find a viable career path, as they say in books about such things. Through experiences, the suggestions of others, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, I finally concluded that I should be a teacher.

In order to do that, I reluctantly entered graduate school. By God’s grace and through the unfailing support of my wife and parents, I obtained the education needed to become a certified teacher.

An instructor’s pay isn’t great, but it’s not bad either. At this point in my career, I make a fairly respectable income, though not as much as some who are my age with my level of education.

Unfortunately, I was almost a decade older than the typical graduate when I became a first-year teacher, near the bottom of the pay scale with a pregnant wife and facing responsibilities beyond those of most beginning educators.

My wife was content to live in a very used trailer that first year, and she did an amazing job stretching my salary to meet our needs. To quote Bob Dylan, Linda’s “a God-fearing woman I can easily afford.”

During my second year of teaching, we managed to buy a small but brand new house in a development. About 80 residences on one-acre lots were built in the midst of cornfields and woods, and living there has been something like being in the country without the isolation, or maybe it has been more like living in the suburbs without as much convenience.

Up and down our street, families moved in, and they obviously spent money. Neighbors showed us their ongoing projects: finished basements, upgraded flooring, sunrooms, professional landscaping, and other improvements.

My wife and I did what we could afford and didn’t really worry about it much because we had our priorities in mind: I was teaching, and my wife was staying at home to raise our daughter. We also planned to have more children.

After supper, Linda and I would chat while pushing our daughter in a stroller, passing our neighbors and waving, sometimes stopping to talk. When we first met one couple, they had a little one in a stroller, just like we did, so conversation came easily. Eventually, the woman asked my wife what she did, and with some veiled embarrassment, Linda revealed that she stayed with our daughter and wasn’t working outside of the home.

The woman sighed, one of those genuine, protracted, groans of remorse. “I wish I could do that,” she said. “But we just can’t afford it.”

I felt sad for her, but by then we were in front of their home, which was the same model as mine, only they had a completely finished basement. Mine was nothing more than bare cinderblock walls and a cement floor, waiting for the time when we really needed to finish the space.

Two new cars were parked in their freshly paved driveway. We did have a fairly decent little Ford Escort wagon parked on our gravel, but I was driving a rusty Dodge Colt to work every day.

I felt sad for that woman because she desired the freedom to do what she really wanted to do, but she apparently hadn’t discovered that our belongings have a way of enslaving us and cutting back our options. There was no way I could have become a teacher, and my wife couldn’t have stayed home with our kids if we had been paying off cars and a hefty mortgage.

Everything we own requires labor to acquire and even more to maintain, and that takes up our precious time. We can always make more money, but we can never make more time. Consequently, I’m not a big fan of things.

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