Some of you know that I collect vintage magazines. I love to skim through them and get a taste of what life was like way back when, fifty years or more ago. This past week, I was perusing a copy of Ladies’ Home Journal from September, 1894 (way, WAY back when!) and stumbled upon a fascinating article entitled “When There is a Surplus.” Here is an excerpt to give you the general gist of the article:
Perhaps there is no happier time in the housewife’s life than the day in which she begins to realize that the hardest part of her home-making is passed. After struggles and self-denials, business prosperity makes it possible for her to indulge her individual taste and fancies. Now the question confronts her, “What shall be done with the surplus which remains after the legitimate needs of the housekeeping have been satisfied?” In the first place, it is well to bear in mind the probability that in a few years, at most, a new home will be required to express the new fortunes of the family. In our American civilization few men and women end their domestic life in the house in which it was begun. It seems to be an almost national instinct to save and plan in the early days of matrimony against the time when a home shall be bought or built. It is wise, therefore, for the housewife to have this end in view, and act accordingly. There are two old sayings, the truth of one of which emphasized the fallacy of the other. The first and true one declares, “It is better to have a large income and a small house than to reverse the conditions.” The second tells us that “It is better for a man to lodge in excess of his fortunes than beneath them.” The first point, then, is to remain in the small home until there is a good working surplus, instead of moving into larger quarters with no margin for increased expense.
I’m pretty sure Dave Ramsey would shout a loud, “Amen!” to that tidbit of vintage advice. No doubt, the majority of Americans are “lodging in excess of their fortunes.” Credit cards. loans, and home mortgages allow us to borrow against tomorrow in an attempt to enjoy a taste of prosperity today. While we can agree (or most of us) that home mortgages are not a bad thing, buying more house than we can comfortably afford can lead to stress, misery, and plenty of marital discord. The same is true for credit cards. They are not evil unless we use them in an attempt to live beyond our means. I’m grateful for a husband who has practiced the principle of paying off our monthly credit card bill at the end of each month. Basically, we only use our credit cards to borrow against what we can already afford for no more than 30 days. And rack up lots of Southwest Airlines miles in the process.
There were days early on in my marriage when I rebelled against my husband’s frugal ways. In fact, shortly after we married, I convinced him to to buy a house that was in reality, more than we could afford. It was love at first sight when I walked into the master bath with my husband and realtor. I was seduced by a garden tub that looked like it was big enough to swim laps in and said “this is it.” My husband reminded me that it was at the top of our budget and our realtor came to my rescue by reminding him that we easily qualified for the home. (Note to all first-time home buyers: What the banks say you can afford and what you can actually afford are two different numbers.) I guess you could say that my poor husband was double-teamed. Of course, the realtor wasn’t around after we signed the papers to help us work through the stressful moments that followed when it became abundantly clear that we had “no margin for increased expense.” None. Nada. We could not so much as go out to eat, see a movie, or take a weekend trip in our first year of marriage. But dang it, we had a nice garden tub.
Would you believe I only used that stupid garden tub maybe twice during the entire time we lived in the home? The visions of relaxing bubble baths that had danced in my head on the first tour of the home, were replaced with a more realistic picture: one of a dusty, garden tub and money going down the drain each month, sucking vortex sound included. I guess you could say that my dream home with the garden tub became my worst nightmare. Fortunately, we ended up selling the home within a year and chalked the whole experience up to a valuable lesson learned: A “surplus” outside of God’s will and timing, produces misery, in the end.
As I read through the remainder of the vintage article, I was struck by the theme of “wait.” They did without for many years before the “surplus” came their way…if ever. They lived in homes that we would consider by today’s standards, shacks for the poor and oppressed. They looked forward to the day when they could spend the surplus and enjoy the toils of their labor. “After struggles and self-denials, business prosperity makes it possible for her (the housewife) to indulge her individual taste and fancies.” After struggles and self-denials….do we even know what that looks like anymore? No doubt, some have had to experience this with the downturn in the economy, but overall, we are a spoiled nation. The problem we have today, is that we’re not accustomed to “struggles and self-denials.” Waiting is hard. We want the surplus and we want it now. Our nature wants to live in the surplus, not the drought. Yet, it’s in the drought that God readies us for the surplus. In season. When it’s time. When He knows we can handle it. The waiting period or drought is our training ground.
Maybe for you, the surplus is not a garden tub. Maybe it’s a new Coach bag (like the one your best friend carries), double-step crown molding in your family room, or the new iPhone 4s. (Ouch.) And God is saying, “wait.” Or for many of our Christian young people and singles, the surplus might be sex outside of marriage. And God is saying, “wait.” Some may be dating the wrong person because it’s taking waaaay too long to wait for the right one to come along. And God is saying, “wait.” For yet others, the surplus may be a constant connection to white noise via Facebook, Twitter, texting, or your phone. And God is saying, “wait.” For some, it may be the job they thought they needed to afford worldly surpluses for their children. And God is saying, “wait.” For another, it could be a calling in ministry and a tendency to make it happen before its time. And God is saying, “wait.”
A surplus enjoyed in the right season — in God’s timing and with His approval, is a surplus worth waiting for. Until then, enjoy the wait. Who knows, we just might discover that the wait is in fact, a surplus of its own.