Thursday, October 8, 2015

Right Priorities

When I meet with a couple to discuss their upcoming wedding, we usually discuss my list of things that I have decided cause the biggest problems in marriage for couples.  The list is one that I have formulated over the years as I have talked with couples and counseled with individuals concerning their relationships.  The list is not one that incorporates all the issues or problems that may evolve during a marriage but it is one that I think lays the groundwork for a good relationship if one considers what is involved in having a good relationship or marriage.  

I always tell the couple that at the foundation of a good relationship is communication.  If two people can talk about whatever is on their minds, then they can usually tackle just about any problem if both of them are willing to try to solve them.  Actually listening to the other person and hearing what their concerns are AND having a desire to find a resolution to a problem will help people to get past whatever the issues may be that divide them.  So, good communication is at the heart of every good relationship.  

Then, we go into discussion of issues that regularly cause division in a marriage--children, relatives, work, use of time, religion (church attendance), how to decide where to spend holidays, and finally to the big one, the problem that causes many marriages to, not that one, but the one I name is MONEY.  Yes, money, the use of money, overspending and overuse of credit is a huge problem for couples and if they do not talk about how they will spend their money, how they will arrange their banking and saving, these issues can divide a marriage and has even ended marriages.  

Money is a necessary part of living and all of us want it and need it in order to live comfortable lives.  Money allows us to buy possessions, both small and large.  Money is both real (such as cash or checks) and imaginary (such as is given to us by credit cards and loans of various sizes).  We can see the cash we use and the checks we write that represent cash but the use of charge cards and the acquisition of loans is an almost mysterious process.  It is very easy for people to be overextended in their use of credit cards and their handling of loans.  When people begin to feel the pressure and tension of living in an overextended state with little money to do anything except pay bills, then tension may develop between the persons involved in the use of money.  

Jesus talked about money many times in the Gospels.  Sometimes he told parables that ended with platitudes such as "You cannot serve God and money."  This week, we are reading from Mark's Gospel a familiar story commonly called, "The Rich Young Ruler".  Mark seems to only tell us that he is a man and that he is wealthy.  We do not know that he is young or rich but that has been the tradition told in regard to the story over the years.  

The man bows at the feet of Jesus and asks him to tell him what he needs to do to have eternal life.  Jesus tells him to obey the commandments and Jesus names some of them to which the man says that he has tried to obey them all from his youth.  Jesus then tells him to go sell what he has and to give the money to the poor and to come follow him.  At this command, the man goes away "grieving" because he "had many possessions" which in the ancient world would indicate that some was wealthy since most people had very few possessions.  

Jesus then does a teaching segment on how wealth can stop one from entering God's Kingdom, although he says it is not impossible, but just difficult.  He also says that those who give up things in order to follow him will be rewarded in the world to come.  The platitude that ends this story is: "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."  In other words, things are not always what they seem to be using worldly standards to try to negotiate the spiritual world.  Worldly things do not matter as much as spiritual things when it comes to following Jesus.  

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ involves having a relationship with him.  It is just like having a relationship with a spouse or other relative.  We can allow things in life to separate us from others, things such as the ones on my list, or we can not consider them as important as our relationship with Jesus and consider it to be of utmost importance to our lives.  Money may be one of those things for some people but it is not the only one.  Life is full of choices that may present options that stand between us and our devotion to Christ.  

Jesus was actually describing the greatest commandment when he commanded the man to sell his possessions and follow him.  He somehow perceived that this man's wealth stood between him and his relationship with God.  The first commandment says to love God with all our of being.  It is called the greatest commandment because of that duty.  Anything that comes between loving God with all of our being and us is something to be cleared away so as to have a right relationship with God.  

It may be money but in the modern world it may be one of a host of other things that keep us from truly knowing, loving, and serving God.  It may be something that we have to do, such as resolve a conflict with another person, or something we have to not do, such as turn off our television or computer now and then to allow time to seek God through prayer and study.  In either case, asking God to direct our lives so we can have a better relationship with God is a prayer that God will truly answer as we seek the truth and light that only God can bring.  

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