Sleepy Thoughts on Altruism

It was shortly after 5:00 am Eastern Standard Time and I was laying in my bed awake.  I wasn’t protesting sleep or even tossing and turning fighting to relinquish my consciousness, rather I was woken up by my sporadically anti-establishment 8 month old son. Sometimes he loves the sleep schedule we impose on him and on other nights I think he is trying to recruit the neighbors to be “down with the struggle”.  In a statement of full disclosure, for every minute of sleep I lose, my wife has probably lost 45 minutes (she is a saint in more ways that one).  Nevertheless, I found myself awake just after 5:00 am EST last night. I must have just ended a REM cycle because Britt’s weary request for me to put the baby back to sleep didn’t sound like the equivalent of running a half marathon with cinder block shoes.  Only a slightly reluctantly I left the room to pat my little protester’s bottom until he gives up his latest attempt to shrug the yoke a full night’s sleep.

After a surprisingly quick victory in the sleep battle, I returned to my bed with a mind that was slightly less foggy than when I began.  Eager to claim my last two hours of good sleep before the day began, I started to consider altruism.  “Does getting up to put the baby back to sleep count as an act of Altruism” I wonder, getting closer to sleeping again. “It doesn’t benefit me to admit my consciousness to Britt when he is crying through the baby monitor. In fact, it benefits her to know that I am awake and that she can stay in bed and rest, while I sacrifice my sleep by going to pat Jonah back to sleep.  I guess that is the definition of altruism if you wanted to be technical…”

As I am pondering these things and sleep is just a minute or two away, I hear that noise that makes my heart sink.  The baby is crying through the baby monitor again.  If my thoughts were broadcast out loud you could have literally quoted me as saying, “I don’t want to get up again. I just want to lay here in bed and think about altruism.”  By the time that the irony hit me, Britt was already on her way out of the room (like I said, a saint).

Whether or not my weak attempt to allow my wife to get some more sleep can be considered an act of altruism or not, I was reminded of what a true act of love looks like last night. When I think about serving my wife (or anyone for the most part) rarely do I have the opportunity to be truly altruistic.  Altruism being the act of helping another person at the cost of my well being. Even when given an opportunity to be altruistic, I preferred to stay comfortable and merely ponder the merits and boundaries of altruism instead of participating.

It is precisely moments like these that remind me to be grateful for the supreme act of altruism that Jesus completed by his crucifixion.  He being completely perfect and absolutely innocent was punished for my transgression.  He was completely aware of what harm would come to him and of what benefit would come to me (and all of mankind) and he accepted the terms and allowed himself to be killed.

In the end my half hearted altruism does really compare to that of Jesus, but it did serve to remind me of how far I am from being holy and encourage me to persist to that end.

The Tortoise Always Wins

Two years ago as Britt and I were preparing to get married we were looking at our finances and making plans for how to pay off her school debt.  We thought we might be able to pay it off within a year or two because of Britt’s diligence to keep her debt to a minimum and God’s blessing for me to make it through school without incurring any debt.  The plan was going well until we had an unexpected C-Section when Jonah was born.  The hospital bills backed up our plans significantly, or so we thought.  As I am writing this, Britt and I are completely debt free!

This is our filled debt thermometer.

This is our filled debt thermometer.

How did this happen?  If you are a listener or reader of Dave Ramsey (as we are), you have probably heard Dave say that the tortoise always wins.  This is a reference to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  In the story the Tortoise and the Hare are competing in a foot race.  The Hare has the obvious advantage in speed and flaunts it in the beginning of the race.  However, the twist is that the Hare gets distracted and stops racing for a little while allowing the Tortoise to catch up and eventually win the race. What Dave Ramsey means by “the Tortoise always wins,” is that if you are patient, persistent, and diligent with your plan to get out of debt then you will always succeed, just as the tortoise succeeds in beating the hare every time you read the story.

Honestly, I agree with Dave, it took Britt and I almost two years of focused budgeting and saving to pay off all of our debt, but I think that there is more to the story than that.  The story of the tortoise and hare is static and never changes and it only focuses on the power of will and determination.  There is much to be said about persistence and determination, but the story also speaks a lot about the danger of getting distracted from your goal.  Like I said though, I agree with Dave.  There was however a greater power at work in our story I believe.  It was because of God’s provision and plan that we were able to pay off around $11,000 worth of hospital and school loan bills in under two years, not just my and Britt’s persistence and determination.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

In His perfect timing God provided the money that was being held in an account from the previous year.   Last year I was only getting paid a portion of my full support that was available.  All of that remainder was dispensed to me at the first paycheck of the year.  This “bonus” (if you want to call it that) was actually deposited into our bank account on my birthday.  What is more incredible than the coincidence of the day it was deposited was that it was deposited when we needed it the most.

Only a couple of days beforehand, I sitting at our church staff meeting and looking at my bank account online.  The posted balance was just over $13. As you can imagine, this caused me to get a little nervous about our financial situation.  With $200 dollars in cash leftover from Christmas gifts and $13 in the bank I began to see the beautiful picture that was about to be painted. At our staff meeting, the other pastors and I began discussing my salary and how much money was left in my account from the year before.  Acting as advisers, both Mat and Jason recommended that I take as much as possible from the left over while still leaving a couple months worth of paychecks for the period of time that I was going to be securing my funding for the next year.  This way Britt and I would be able to pay off our most expensive monthly bill and keep that much more money in our wallet each month.  At this point I thought that all we had to do was make it to the next Wednesday and then the money would be in our account and give us comfort again while we continued to pay off our smaller debts.

As I left our staff meeting I was comforted by the fact that we were going to be able to survive without over drafting into our savings.  Then I began to think about the phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  I thought it seemed appropriate for our situation, going from $13 to paying off our hospital bill was quite an encouraging thought.  Thinking about this I was reminded of Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection.  To his disciples, the crucifixion must have seemed like the darkest and worst imaginable scenario.  In their eyes the person that they had been following for three years that had sufficiently proven his divinity as God in the flesh, had just been executed as a criminal.  Jesus was supposed to be the savior of the world.  All of mankind had been waiting for him to come and reunite them to God and then he came.  However, he was killed before he got a chance to establish God’s kingdom and reunite people to Him.  Jesus was dead and his enemies had won.  Or so it seemed.  Three days later the sun rose and brought the dawn after the darkest hour.  When Jesus came back to life, he validated and proved everything that he had ever told the disciples.  The disciples joy must have been immeasurably more powerful than their previous sorrow had been.  So the crucifixion made the world the darkest just before the resurrection had caused the dawn to come.

This is the greatest story ever told.  Jesus overcame even death itself to bring joy, love, grace, and truth to all of mankind.  I’m not comparing my paying off debt to Jesus’s resurrection, but I am saying that I was reminded of it when I thought of our situation.

There was however a miscalculation on my part.  I thought that we would be able to pay off our hospital bills and have a little left over to pay off some of Britt’s school loans.  I was wrong, but in a good way.  We actually had enough to pay off all of Britt’s school loans after the hospital bill was paid.  I think this miscalculation was even a way that God was trying to reveal Himself to me though.  You see, I was anticipating paying off the hospital bills and having a measure of comfort and a plan to finish paying off the school loans.  However, Jesus’s resurrection wasn’t intended to give us a measure of comfort from the pain of sin and provide a plan to work out our salvation.  The resurrection was for complete freedom from sin.  In the same way, God didn’t want my “bonus” to give us comfort and a plan, He wanted to give Britt and I complete financial freedom.

Because of the faithful giving from our ministry partners Britt and I are freer than we have ever been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and broken world.  We are extremely excited to be able to share with others the story of how God provided for us all along so that we could enjoy his blessing of abundant giving at one time.  This all happened after we returned from Mississippi to find that our pastor had installed a new (used) refrigerator and stove in our home while we were gone.

It took patience and diligence for me and Britt to see financial freedom, but we are focused on something much bigger than financial freedom.  We want to see students find spiritual freedom.  If you have been following my newsletters or blog for a while you might remember that I have been meeting with multiple students that claim no religious belief.  I just wanted to share with you all that some of them are now reading the Bible.  None of them have committed their lives to following Jesus yet, but God is working in their lives, even if they can’t see it.  With your prayer I hope to see “the tortoise” that is God’s unfailing plan, win these ones too.