Consider what I’ll call defense mechanism number 84, in which we soothe away the awareness of our own moral decay by finding a more extreme version of ourselves, labeling it as a special category of evil, and then castigating it as some unimaginably sub-human horror. Today’s case study: the “gold-digger.”
This woman is despised by society because she marries entirely (or even mostly) for the purpose of financial security, perhaps hoping (with enough age disparity) to become a surrogate heir to an existing male fortune. Evil, right? Sure. But for clarity’s sake, let’s rephrase. Described less pejoratively, isn’t she really marrying for the purpose of getting something from her spouse that she wants? The problem is that she wants something from him rather than wanting him.
But when you put it that way, it seems rather ordinary for the simple reason that we all marry for this reason. We marry in hopes of sexual pleasure. We marry to get entertaining companionship. We marry because our beloved is pretty, or accomplished, or appealing in some other way and thus an effective proof to others (and ourselves) that we are the sort of people who can bag off such a trophy. To put it bluntly, don’t we all marry primarily for the most selfish of reasons?
Oh, sure, we love the other person, but would we marry them if they were uglier, stupider, meaner, and more irresponsible? We may say “for poorer…in sickness…and in bad times,” but we don’t cherish those possibilities, and we strive valiantly to date around them. So unless I’m performing logic poorly, this means we’re all basically gold-diggers at heart, a conclusion our security in Christ permits us to face without the risk of psychological self-destruction. But there’s a silver lining to this precious metals analogy. None of this is a surprise to God. In fact, one might even suppose He knew it some time ago. And in response, He crafted the institution of marriage.
Now as anyone knows, marriage has a funny way of exposing your flaws and then cultivating your undeveloped virtues. You see, although she might resist it, I suspect that even the schemingest gold-digging sexpot discovers during the course of her matrimony that this man is worthy of love and that she cares for him as a man rather than as a means. That’s just what marriage does to you. And although I may have married for what I would get from my wife, over the years I have learned how to gain the most joy from being married for what I can give to her. Yes, it’s a practice I am still learning, but I learn it every day from the God whose pattern I am following and in whose marital health club for the soul I am growing.
It has long seemed to me that one of the great challenges of fully Christianizing ourselves is seeking out, discovering, and then removing every vestige of worldliness in our thinking. For my own part, one example of this has been learning not to care very much about fame or getting credit for the things I might do.
Although most intellectuals care very deeply that they be properly attributed, I have learned to simply be happy if the ideas I generate are adopted and perpetuated by others, regardless if my name is attached to them. My reason? The God I serve knows full well what I do, and I trust Him to give me any compensation I might need, including being “known” for such things. I don’t need history to remember me if God forgets nothing.
But this morning I had a different sort of question arise. Some coworkers were discussing the roots of World War II and naturally Neville Chamberlain came up, being famous for his policy of appeasement toward the expansionism of Hitler. And that’s when it hit me. Everyone knows who Neville Chamberlain was precisely because he made such a fabulous blunder in not grasping Hitler’s true intentions. And to this day, he serves as the iconic example of how not to respond to a tyrant. In that way, he is a tremendously useful example from history, and his knownness to students of history is extremely high.
Now, naturally it’s better to avoid blunders and the horrific consequences which can flow from them, such as in this case. That being said, I started wondering whether I would feel satisfied if my own life could be as historically useful a source of guidance as Neville Chamberlain’s was. And in the end, I realized that if I’m really dedicated to teaching people to be wise, there are many far less vivid ways to fulfill that goal than the one which befell him.
So would I choose to be historically significant in the manner of Chamberlain? It’s certainly not my first choice, but if God sees fit to guide people even through my ignominy, shouldn’t I be satisfied with that? If He is pleased with me being hated by history but remembered usefully by her, well, isn’t the sacrifice of infamy even greater than the sacrifice of anonymity?
As someone who just unloaded two moving trucks worth of accumulated living paraphernalia, I would say I’m freshly open to the advice of motivational author Brian Tracy: “Pay twice as much for your clothes, and buy half as many. Expensive clothes are cheaper because you wear them more often.”
Although this proverb seems superficially counterintuitive, the underlying idea is brilliantly vital. Because we must wear something every day, the correct way to approach buying a shirt, for instance, isn’t by thinking primarily about purchase price, but about the number of “wears” you will get out of it. As anyone who has bought both expensive and cheap clothes knows, you wind up wearing the costly ones far more frequently for the simple reason that you like them much better. Although well-made clothes may also last longer, this isn’t the real issue he’s getting at.
In my closet, I have numerous shirts which I paid little for but almost never wear. In addition to taking up space and time, they represent an investment which was easy to make because each outlay was small. But since I rarely wear them and since I’ve over time bought so many of them, they represent an aggregate waste of money, plus the time and effort of storing, ignoring, and moving them.
The real measure of the cost of a shirt is thus the price divided by the number of times you’ll wear it. And since we tend to wear clothes we like many times more often than the others, Brian Tracy’s advice doesn’t even go far enough. In reality, I think that clothes which cost twice as much bring you perhaps twenty or more times as much value because of how much better you feel in them and how much more often you don them.
Now, for someone like me who almost exclusively buys clothes secondhand, all my clothes cost very little. But the principle still applies. I should only buy ones I like well enough to pay more for and know for sure I will wear a lot instead of the ones I like just enough to pay such a low price for.
As a friend of mine used to say, “Some things are so cheap they aren’t worth buying.” I would add that some things cost you the most only after you buy them.
And just to be sure it isn’t missed for not being said overtly, this way of thinking surely applies to any other personal possession as well.