I’m sure my siblings and I aren’t the only ones whose parents tried to use children in Africa to motivate them to finish their dinner. As soon as we figured out that being part of the “Clean Plate Club” wasn’t really that exciting, the attempts at guilt began. We were reminded of those starving kids which we saw on TV who had flies buzzing around them, and we were told that those kids would be thankful to get just a quarter of what we were given on our plates. I once asked if I could send them my green beans, but the answer was a definitive “no.”
Instead of raising money to send in to the fund that would help relieve the starving kids in Africa from deadly malnutrition, we were taught (by default) that our part in helping solve world hunger was simply to finish our veggies. Somehow the vegetables ending up in our tummies instead of in our garbage can made things better for those African kids. I never did figure out how.
That example of my parents’ (failed) attempt at motivation may sound silly, but I recently encountered an adult who used pretty much the same reasoning about buying something her family could afford that many others could not. The amount seemed insignificant to her, based on her family’s financial means, but she’d heard of people saving up for years in order to afford what she took for granted. That made her feel terrible — just like knowing about those children in Africa was supposed to make me feel terrible.
Her response was akin to my eating my veggies — and no more helpful: “I should be more frugal.” I had no words. Especially since I’m much closer to the saving-for-years-to-afford-it income level, I figured that my comments would be construed as self-serving. But I wondered how she thought her frugality, in itself, would help anyone?
Now, don’t go away thinking that frugality isn’t a good thing; it is. Or at least it can be. Off the top of my head, here are a few ways that being frugal can help you accomplish God’s goals:
• You can meet your financial obligations.
• You can “afford” to work less, giving you increased opportunities to serve God in various capacities (making disciples of your own children and others, serving within your local church, volunteering in a way that benefits others in your community, etc.).
• You can give generously of the money that you save (toward missions, local church projects, pregnancy centers, needs of individuals in your community).
• You can become or remain free from enslaving debt and save for future needs, relieving others of the burden of providing for you. As a result, they can then continue to meet their own obligations and give toward other individuals and causes.
Frugality in its own rite may be good for you, just like eating my green beans was good for me. But it didn’t extend that goodness to anyone else. Let’s get past the idea of being “good boys and girls” and actually do good — the kind of good that impacts others, including children in Africa.
by Tammy Wagner
Tammy is a pastor’s wife in Pennsylvania and the mother of three young children who are still learning to clear their plates completely.
Image credits: Top by Gilles Paire/Fotolia; Middle by Monkey Business/Fotolia; Bottom by Helder Almeida/Fotolia.