Tag Archives: Miser

Because I can, Doesn’t Mean I should

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
    note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:1-2 (NIV)

When I was starting out in my career, we had miser in charge of our company’s travel expenses. It was dictated that we would stay in the cheapest places, rent the cheapest cars, and keep our meals to a minimum. In many cases, the cheapest alternatives were zealously investigated and it was required that we use them.

I still have memories of the hole-in-the-wall car rental place that this person found. It was a true “rent-a-dent” with a small fleet of small, two-door Grand Prix Pontiacs. They were almost all red and they had been purchased from other car rental places on the cheap because they had high-mileage, lots of wear, ran rough, and every single one of them had been the used by their previous owners as the cars designated for smokers. Even the $17 a day we paid was overpriced for these barely roadworthy pieces of junk. I now look back and laugh at those days like a veteran road warrior swapping battle stories, but it really was extreme.

I’m happy to say that after a few years the travel restrictions were eased. We were allowed to stay in mid-tier hotels and negotiated an account with one of the major car rental companies. Our per diem for meals was eased to a reasonable limit. Nevertheless, the standard had been set. We watch what we spend, what gets charged to the client, and always keep it reasonable.

A few years later, I was having lunch with the CEO of a large client we were privileged to serve for many years.

“You know why I love you and your company? Why I respect you and keep doing business with you?” he asked me unexpectedly in his thick New York Jewish accent.

I was honestly curious to know.

“It’s your expense reports,” he quickly said in response to his own question without waiting for me to answer, “You don’t try and gouge me. You wouldn’t believe what most vendors try and get away with. They expect me to pay for the magazines they buy to read on the plane and $200 bottles of wine at lunch. It’s ridiculous. Your team always just charges me for the basics, and it’s always reasonable. That tells me a lot about your company.”

I thought about that lunch, and that CEO, as I read this morning’s chapter and the sage saying of ancient Jewish wisdom at the top of this post. That lunch was an important waypoint in my career as I began to see myself through the eyes of the decision makers who hire our company. While the miser I first experienced as a corporate rookie took things to an unnecessary extreme, I came to understand the wisdom that motivated their frugality. Clients pay attention to what we charge them, and they make judgements about our integrity, our character, and our relationship because of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m smiling and whispering a prayer of gratitude for the person who made me endure long road trips in a stale, smoke-smelling rust-buckets. It wasn’t fun at the time, but it taught me an important lesson. And, it became a really good story for those days when I find myself comparing battle scars with fellow road warriors at the airport.

Now that I find myself at the top of the company’s org chart, I know that there are clients who assume that I will expect a higher level of travel experience when I’m on business with their company. I’ve even had a few clients encourage me to stay in nicer places and/or enjoy a higher-ticket meal or two than what they see I charged on my expense report. I thank them, and then I purposefully and silently refuse to do so. When it comes to next year’s contract, I never want to give the client any reason, even a small reason, to suspend or end our relationship.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Miser and the Psalm 112 Man

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
2 Corinthians 9:6

Many years ago I was traveling with a colleague who, inadvertently made a comment that stung. Being a right-brained creative, I’m always searching for new and better ways to organize myself. Also, being a right-brained creative I tend to get bored quickly and move on to try new things. So it was that I had been experimenting with making a custom, daily to-do list on a 3×5 card that I kept on a leather blotter in my pocket. I like things small and compact.

I realized why you write so small and put everything on a tiny card,” my colleague said.

I took the bait. “Oh yeah? Why is that?” I answered.

Because you’re such a miser. You’re miserly about everything.”

Wow. Granted, I come from a Dutch heritage famous for thrift, but I’d never in my life been told that I was a “miser.” The conversation ended and the subject never came up again, but the comment stuck with me like a soul wound. Am I a miser?

Sometime later I read Psalm 112, and as I read it I realized that it described the kind of man I wanted to be. So I memorized it. I still whisper it to myself all the time. I even had the reference tattooed on my right bicep. Interestingly, the lyrics of the psalm twice mentions generosity:

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn will be lifted high in honor.

Looking back in 20-20 hindsight, I believe my colleague’s comment was a misguided perception based on other factors that need not be mentioned here. I’ve long since forgiven and let it go. It did, however, create a beneficial period of honest introspection, and it motivated me to increasingly live out Psalm 112 in my daily life. I know I have further to go in that journey, but Wendy and I desire to be consciously and tangibly generous with all of the blessings God has given us.

In today’s chapter, Paul is appealing to the generosity of Jesus’ followers in Corinth as he takes up an offering for the believers starving amidst the famine in Judea and Samaria. Interestingly, he quotes Psalm 112, and of course it leapt off the page at me.

In the quiet this morning I am thankful for my old colleague who caused me to pause and take a hard, introspective look inward. I am once again whispering through Psalm 112. As along week of work begins that will take me to the west coast and back, I’m thinking about the opportunities I will have to be a generous person in different ways with many different people I don’t even know. We can use more generosity in this world, don’t you think?

Have a good week, my friend.

Of Twisties and Pantry Lights

Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. Aaron shall set it up in the tent of meeting, outside the curtain of the covenant, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
Leviticus 24:2-3 (NRSV)

Wendy and I live together quite comfortably, but we are no different from every other couple on the planet. We have our differences, which don’t always become acutely clear until you live together for a period of time. Wendy and I were both raised in our Dutch heritage, and we both exemplify the legendary frugality of Hollanders. Our frugality, however, is exhibited in very different ways.

My wife’s frugality is exemplified in the hoarding of things that might  be useful in her kitchen. For example, one should never throw away a “twisty” (the little colored paper covered wire that binds the bag on a loaf of bread). You never know when you might need a million or three of these incredibly useful utensils. The same principle can be applied to sacks (especially the ones with little handles on them), and zip-loc bags. I may roll my eyes at the piled rainbow of twisties in the kitchen drawer, Wendy will remind me, but I know without a doubt that there is one (or 12) available when I need it, and I know exactly where to find them.

My frugality (thank you, Dad) is exemplified by my compulsive desire to turn out lights that are illuminating empty rooms (and the accompanying rage that rises in my soul when I see it). Wendy has no problem keeping a room illuminated if there’s the possibility that she might enter it some time during her waking hours. When I see lights on in empty rooms I go into panic just short of cardiac arrest. After all, the unnecessary illumination of empty rooms will certainly be our financial ruin. They will drain our retirement fund of necessary pennies and lead to us living in a dark, cold, rat-hole of an apartment in our old age in which we will rock in our chairs and grieve long hours over this stark reality: If we’d have simply turned out more lights in empty rooms all those years, we might be able to afford turning on the furnace to ease our frigid, arthritic appendages.

So, where am I going with this? Well, just yesterday in the middle of a bright, sunny summer day I walked down to the kitchen to get a cold beverage. Sure enough, I found that the light in our empty kitchen pantry was on. Wendy was in her office working away at her desk. My frugality alarm went off and, as usual, my blood pressure went into its rapid, steep ascent. In a moment of lucidity, however, I reminded myself that entering an argument over turning out the pantry light was futile. We’ve been down that road to nowhere before. I am also frugal with arguments (especially those I’ll never win).

I asked myself: How do I get over my obsessive frustration over turning out the pantry light so that I can live in peace and avoid the cardiologist’s bill?

That’s when I remembered the eternal flame.

Growing up in the Methodist church, there hung a large cross over the altar at the front of sanctuary. From the bottom of the cross hung what looked like a large candle holder. I was taught as a child that this was the “eternal flame” which was always lit (except, of course, when the light bulb burned out) as a word picture of God’s eternal presence and Light.

I laughed as I thought to myself that I needed to stop thinking of the pantry light (which is the light I find most commonly lit unnecessarily) as the bane of our financial freedom. Instead, I need to think of it as the eternal flame that illuminates God’s blessing and provision (as evidenced by a stocked pantry).

In a moment of synchronicity, this morning’s chapter is the source of the “eternal flame” concept. It began with the Levitical law commanding that the high priest (Aaron) keep a lamp burning in the temple, just outside the curtained area which metaphorically represented God’s presence.

Today I’m thinking about frugality and eternal flames. I’m thinking about our individual differences and the compromises we learn to make in living together harmoniously. I can think of compromise as a negative (e.g. I’m having to “give up” or “give in” to something) or I can choose to find something beneficial in the process. The illumination of a pantry void of humans is also a pantry illuminating the evidence of God’s blessings and faithful provision. Perhaps that reminder is worth the pocket change it costs me.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 15

The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris
Image via Wikipedia

Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors. Deuteronomy 15:10-11 (MSG)

As a child my parents signed us up to provide food for Thanksgiving to a family who couldn’t afford it. I still remember driving with my mother to a section of town that we had always driven through. I remember the house with the run down porch and handing the bags of groceries, the frozen turkey, the cans of cranberry sauce and green beans over to a woman I did not know, whom I would never see again.

I remember my Great Aunt telling me of my grandfather. There were some terrible years after her divorce. Each time my grandparents drove the 200 miles to visit,  she said she would clean her apartment the next week and find a fifty dollar bill on top of the refrigerator. Knowing that her pride would never allow her to accept a freely given handout, my grandfather would slip the gift on top of the refrigerator where it wouldn’t be seen until cleaning day.

I remember a friend who, just a few years ago, told me in a passing comment what a miser she considered me to be. It was said in off-hand jest, but I perceived the sincerity of the jab. She really does consider me to be miserly.

And there is the rub. On one hand is the legacy, passed on to me by previous generations, of grace and generosity which I so desire be and to carry on; the desire to be the person described in today’s chapter giving freely and spontaneously: open, purse, open hands. On the other hand is the reality of a sinful and stingy heart that others see and perceive in me and my actions. I feel constantly the tension between Jesus’ challenge to give everything away and my heart’s penchant for hoarding everything for myself.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Some days I am gratefully reminded that this is a journey and I have not arrived. I am not the person God desires, nor the person I, myself, desire. The work of molding and shaping is not complete. I am a work in progress. The key is to keep moving forward letting the regular motion of the journey keep my heart pliable like clay that is constantly worked in the hands of the potter. If I stop for too long and choose not to press on, then things sit and slowly begin to dry out and harden.

Here we go.

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