Shiny Cars, Manicured Lawns, and Broken Hearts – Is this the American Dream?

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Only a fool would think it’s a beautiful picture.

For three weeks during the month of June, my family was in Houston visiting the church that provided the oversight for our work in Alotau, Papua New Guinea.  We spent a lot of time in peoples’ homes and enjoyed the blessings of Christian fellowship.  The result was that we ended up driving through a lot of different neighborhoods north of Houston.  I was struck by how beautiful everything was.

If you want to see pristine manicured lawns, visit some of the neighborhoods in the Champions area of Houston.  Seriously, how does every blade of grass fall perfectly into place?  I can’t even keep all the hairs on my head in line!

Everything looked perfect in those quaint little neighborhoods.

Each morning while we were in Houston, I’d get a USA Today from the breakfast area at the hotel.  The paper was reporting staggering amounts of debt.  Troubling numbers of houses being foreclosed on.  Cars being repossessed.  There were shocking numbers of people who just can’t keep up with their payments, debts, bills, and obligations.

Those statistics must include those same perfect, pristine, and manicured homes with shiny cars in the driveway.

The paradox makes me sick.

Beautify on the outside.  Create a facade of wealth.  A facade of financial stability.

Then avoid phone calls of creditors.  Rack up more and more debt.  Pile on more stress.  Work harder to try and catch up.

Not only are so many people working for something temporary (while neglecting the eternal), but they’re experiencing tremendous amounts of pain, stress, and pressure as they chase after these things.

Is this the American dream?

It seems like somewhere we’ve got off track.

My dream for myself and my family is different.  My hope for you is different, too.  I pray that you don’t buy into the lie that stuff brings happiness.

I want to make people a priority.  I want to give my family the most valuable resource I have – time.  I want to be available to be used by God in whatever ways he calls.  I don’t want debts, burdens, and obligations to get in the way of discipleship.  I want to use my excess for others, not just for self.

So, what are we doing about it?

  • We’re driving around in a hail damaged silver PT Cruiser.
  • We’re renting a house that, while nice, won’t win any home and garden awards.
  • I’m working from home which gives me the flexibility to give priority to family needs and ministry.
  • We’re focusing on saving instead of earning.
  • We spending minimal amounts of money as we set up our home.

So, what are you doing about it? (Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.)

  • What are you doing to slow down in this fast paced world?
  • What are you doing to address the debt situation in your home?
  • Where are you cutting back your spending?
  • How are you saving money?

Comments

  1. JD says

    I am glad you addressed these issues. For many years while my DH and I plugged away at a
    home mortgage virtually everyone we knew drove new shiny vehicles, took very nice vacations and denied no extravaganza for themselves or their home. Some times we wondered what was wrong with us.We had old cars, not new household gadgets and lived very modestly. Then we found out, they lived on credit and we did not. Big difference. We are happy and content with what we have and don’t have. We continue to seek God and his will and that is more important to us.

  2. Anne says

    You made me recall a time while riding around in my home town as a young teen with my Dad back in the 1970′s. I remarked about the big beautiful houses and how well off the people in them must be. My father then pointed out a small frame house and remarked that the person there was weathier than all the others who were probably in debt collecting all their fancy material things. That has stayed with me, I am debt free and live simply. It was not always that way, I use to be married to a person who wanted to have lots of stuff, we were in a lot of debt and really nothing to show for it. After the split, he left me with the debt to pay off, which I slowly did. He started a new life with new debt and after his death, his family had to pay for his funeral and settle his bills. This made an impression on my son, who now lives simply and saves his money. Even though I worry over employment, I know I have an emergency fund and a home that is paid for if hard times hit. This has enabled me to share with others in need that I could not do if saddled with a lot of debt. I thank God everyday for my blessings and ask him to guide me in all I do.

    • says

      Anne,
      I’m thankful that your dad taught you such an important lesson. In fact, I wish more of us could learn that lesson.
      Keep moving in the right direction and continue to seek God’s guidance and presence. I pray that God will address the employment concerns.

  3. Sun says

    We are trying our best to stay on budget. We are expecting a child and will live on one income going forward. Groceries and restaurants were our biggest fails in the past. We are trying the envelope system for those two categories. This is our first month on it and it feels better than using the debit card.

    We want to give cheerfully to God. To do this, we’ve had to restructure our lives a little to sacrifice creature comforts for greater goals such as funding missionaries.

    • says

      Sun,
      I’m glad to hear you’re having success with the envelop system. Thanks for you’re desire to use your budget as a tool to free up more for God’s kingdom.

      I pray that everything goes well with the baby on the way.

  4. Mary says

    Craig, aren’t you glad you’re back in the good ol’ USA (or Canada)? It never ceases to amaze me when I see people driving around in a new car every few years, living in houses that you know they have to struggle to pay for and jet off to some exotic Caribbean resort once or twice a year. I know I wouldn’t want to do it even if I was able….I find it too stressful trying to keep up with the Jones’….:-)

    I continue to plod along to try and pay my house off in decent time, drive my older car and pay my bills on time…..and look for ways to further simplify my life. I rather like the simplicity of things and taking a little easier stroll through life.

    Still enjoying all the posts…keep up the good work!

    Mary

    • says

      Mary,
      It’ really is too stressful to try and keep up. Like you I’m finding simplicity to be a tremendous blessing in life.

      By the way, we are in the States. Wyoming to be exact.

      All the best.

  5. says

    Thanks for this perspective, Craig. It seems that Christian talk on the web can easily stand out by advocating wise methods of saving and spending money by application of Proverbs and other wisdom verses. This is great, but Christian finances not only have different methods for saving but also different goals! Thanks for taking a look at what those should be: not shiny cars, status, or a flashy yet hollow lifestyle. I think Christian financial advice doesn’t always communicate strongly enough that stuff doesn’t bring happiness. This was a great reminder to prize the flexibility to give priority to family and ministry.

    • says

      Mac,
      Thanks for reminding us what really makes Christian finance to be Christian finance. Sometimes we have an idea about money and then seek out Bible verses to support our preexisting assumptions.
      We need to study deeper and open our hearts in prayer.
      Indeed there is joy in life that many of us miss because we are blinded by wealth.

  6. Henry says

    I have been a Christian about 3.5 years and about a year ago I learned about tithing and giving. Within this past year, I did a short sell on my house (God worked a miracle there) and paid off one car. I also moved to a small apartment and got rid of most of my stuff in the process. I am sincerely loving my smaller and simpler life. While I still have one more car and student loans to pay off, I am able to give to missionaries and my church and am thankful for the opportunity. The freedom of less debt is awesome! I can not wait until I am totally debt free. Thanks for the encouragement. I am so glad I found your web site.

  7. Dave says

    Hello Craig, I feel that everyone’s situation is different and that not everyone has the same mind set when it comes to money or wealth. Some people in my opinion couldn’t handle wealth and God knows that. People get confused by having materials there is nothing wrong with the materials it is about the way you perceive it and use it. If you keep God first it doesn’t matter how big your house is or how many cars you have as long as you remember who provided it (God) Getting rid of things that God has blessed you with doesn’t guarantee you will be more spiritual things are not the problem it is the person. Example my wife and I will be building a 50,000 square foot home but difference is that we can afford every bit of it because (God) is the provider. Along with having a huge home we plan to build centers to help the poor and start food banks and non profit organization. Most people would judge us but they don’t have the same maturity that we do nor do they know how God taught us to handle wealth. Wealth in the wrong hands is deadly but in the right hands is a amazing blessing. Now correct me if I am wrong what would be the problem with having a mansion that you can afford while serving God and giving to others? Now there is a problem when you make your stuff your idol or when you worship items but truly you can be (wealthy) with God, you can be (poor) without God, or rich without him or poor with him. We have to realize not every Christian is on the same level nor can handle money the same 10 million dollars to me may be different then 10 million dollars to someone else because like I said not everyone can handle such wealth or stewardship. How we save money is in Investing, how we tighten down on spending getting what we need to accommodate us and our environment.

  8. Dave says

    I also want to add you cannot assume that everyone in a nice neighborhood or mansion is in debt or not doing what God is leading them to do. The materials that they get has nothing to do with who they are because if they can afford it then they can afford it. It is judgmental for people to think that wealthy people are all miserable because a lot of people I met that are miserable are people that don’t have anything people who don’t shoot for the stars or jump through windows of opportunity that God has giving them. Don’t assume people can’t handle money just because someone else couldn’t. If God blesses you with wealth then use that wealth to glorify God! Never be satisfied with just getting by when God wants us to strive for all of our dreams that line up with HIS WILL.

  9. michelle says

    Good article. I thought you would reflect the living conditions you experienced in Papua New Guinea….I can only imagine the comparison. In one of the above posts, surely the 50,000 sq. ft house is a typo? I didn’t know we had castles in America, mansions, yes but castles? I guess he is helping the economy by hiring all the contractors and domestic help????

    • Dave says

      Hello Michelle,
      There was no typo. God has placed it on our hearts. We had never even dreamed about getting anything of this magnitude until God gave us the dream. Many people often don’t understand and would question whether it was God or not but the reality of it is that we literally were not even thinking about a home until later on because of so many things that we were facing at the time, we just wanted to be together, get jobs, and help others as He led us to. As time went on and our situation becoming more tight, some would call obscure, God gave us ideas to invent and dreams for more than we even imagined. Now we are preparing for all that He has and understand that God has no limits to His blessings, the limits come from us and our limited understanding. There are plenty of people in America and around the world that have far more than we do and don’t necessarily choose to be a steward of God’s kingdom, however, we know that it was God that gave us these ideas, dreams, and blessings in the first place and are helping others in ways that we would not otherwise be able to do, all because of what God is doing in our lives. He helps people in so many ways, but often times people perceive it in the bottom up perspective instead of the top down perspective. What I mean by that is that people have a greater tendency to think that God will bless you in a way to make ends meet more so than thinking God will bless you abundantly above all you could ask or think according to His riches in Glory to be a blessing to others in a great way.

  10. Sandra says

    My parents taught me to live debt free, my husband felt the same and I still live debt free. My vehicles are older, but safe; I still churn butter, spin yarn, don’t have cable or sat t.v. and am busy living my life and not living for the job. We are the product of our choices, good or bad, but as someone said, the Bible is always right.

  11. Rosario says

    As long as I remember, I have always lived check to check and although my American dream has always been to own one of those pretty homes you describe, I thank you for reminding me that “bigger is not always better”. But truth be told, I wish I could afford a nice home without sacrificing time away from God and my family. As a single parent, I’ve always struggled financially and have not been able to afford and enjoy a nice home with my son. Now in my mid forties, I don’t know what God has in store for me and my son. However, I do know that I no longer want to borrow but lend. I want to bless others. I want to be the head and not the tail. So, it is my hope that God continues to use you and this blog to help others stay in the right path ( as far as finances are concerned) and continue to inspire and help others better manage their time and money. Blessing to you all.

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