I overheard a conversation the other day at a local coffee shop. A mom and her daughter were having a very focused conversation about wealth and prosperity, investments and diversification.*
The girl was maybe 7 years old and I think by the time I sat at the table beside them, they were already mid-conversation.
“If we were rich, I bet I could have one?” the little girl pleaded.
“Why do you say that?” the mom asked in a gentle voice.
“Because the kids at school said it’s cool to be rich and you can have all the stuff you want.”
“Well, I suppose they’re right in a way,” said Mom cautiously. “But there can also be a problem with being rich, especially if you’re rich in only one way but miss out on all the other ways you can be rich.”
I wasn’t sure if Mom was buying some time there or just trying to satisfy her daughter’s curiosity with a vague philosophical catch-all answer. But the girl was persistent.
“How else can we be rich?”
“Well, if you’re not rich the right way, then you can have all the money in the world and still be unhappy.” Mom was getting into it now. “You can be money rich. But you can also be rich in family or rich with flowers and trees around you or rich with laughter and love. Lots of ways to be rich.”
The 7-year-old chimed in, “Can you be rich with friends?”
“Absolutely,” the mom proudly replied.
“And rich with doughnuts?” Now the little girl was just being clever. But her mom laughed at the daughter’s as yet unclaimed wisdom.
“Exactly,” she added. “So many more ways to be rich than just money rich! Having enough money to get things we need, and some things we want, is really nice. It’s a good thing. But if we think only about the money kind of rich, we really miss out on all the richness that’s all around us, and with us, all the time.”
“So we’re really pretty rich, aren’t we, Mommy?” The girl mumbled with a mouth full of chocolate doughnut.
Her mom smiled as she wiped her daughter’s mouth, “Yes we are!”
I smiled at the two of them, as Mom looked my way. My first suspicion was that she must be feeling pretty good about her daughter’s cleverness and the way that conversation went (instead of the way it could have gone). But seeing her smile, I think she was feeling that unexpected peace and deep joy that comes when we open to our own thoughts and words and discover something for ourselves as well.
This Sunday, I’m continuing with the theme of God’s Kingdom as a big messy table. But I want to explore with you where gratitude and gift fit at that diverse, unpredictable table, too. We’ll look at the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis, a curious ancient story of people getting so focused on who they are and what they can do, but perhaps not enough aware of what they’re missing and giving up in the process. In reveling in their ability and uniformity of purpose and community, they decide to build a tower to divinity and almost miss the divine irony that God’s not there. But it takes a little mischief to remind them. It’s a wonderful, and perhaps too familiar, story that I think we often misread and consequently miss the joke and the bigger picture for faith.
I hope you will join us this Sunday, as we explore the riches, and all the ways to be wealthy, at the big messy table of God’s Kingdom!
* Special thanks to my friend Howard Hanger for the ideas and inspiration for this piece.