While reading a chapter in the Bible recently, I came across a notation I’d previously made in the margin beside a particular verse. (Yes, I write in my Bible—the words of scripture are sacred to me, not the ink and paper itself. Making notes and journaling help me pay attention to what I’m learning and those insights I want to remember. ) The two words I had written were these: Any day…
Most of us have plenty of any day preferences. Give me chocolate over vanilla, any day. Chicken over steak, any day. Jane Austen films over war movies, any day. A soft mattress over firm, any day (uh…I mean, night). And even taking into account the weather, give me Seattle over L.A., any day. I’m sure many of you would flip these as your “any day” choices but I stand by my old favorites.
True, lots of our preferences in life are fairly insignificant. What difference does it make in the big scheme of things if I like jazz over country, or bicycling over bowling? There are, however, those choices that are weighty with the heft of consequence and meaning.
This brings me back to the notation in my Bible. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” Any day. This is a hands-down, no-brainer choice. Not that I’ve had an over-exposure to great riches, personally. But I am an observer of the human condition. And I know from my own dealings with “small riches” that things never bring ultimate satisfaction. If they did, I wouldn’t need just one more pair of shoes for my feet or a new painting for my wall.
Very wealthy people can be happy and fulfilled, of course. But if they are, it’s a result of how they choose to live their lives, not because they are on some Forbes list of billionaires. Sadly, you don’t have to look very far down a list of the most successful “beautiful people”…stars, famous musicians, CEOs, illustrious writers, or entrepreneurs…to find great unhappiness and striking dysfunction.
The Proverbs 22:1 verse offers an interesting juxtaposition of choices: a good name v. great riches; loving favor v. silver and gold. I sometimes wonder, if they had it to do all over again, would some of the former executives and Wall Street whizzes who are trading their suits and briefcases for prison garb and a number still pick wealth over character and a good reputation…any day? What would “loving favor” be worth to someone who has lost the chance to look employees and shareholders (not to mention his or her children) in the eyes and see respect and trust reflected back? Could more silver or gold really top that?
If we are alert, the current economic crisis has much to teach us about where true values lies. Jesus makes those lessons even more clear with these words: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
I want to keep my soul, a choice I make over and over again on ordinary days when I choose to do the right thing over acquiring more things. Nothing in this life will last forever…not that new car with its heady smell…not the big house in a gated community…not the most fashionable clothes that even Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear would approve. Considering the eternal value of a soul, the best choice seems pretty obvious. Any day.
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