Wealth or Love?

Where we Gather
Who do I Crowd Out?
In biblical times, a man’s wealth might be measured by the size of his herds and flocks.  As a result, the more wealth he accumulated, the more grazing land his livestock required. As people grew richer, they literally distanced themselves from others just to maintain their riches-on-the-hoof.

In today’s complex economy, we don’t have to move away from our loved ones because we have so many sheep. All the same, I wonder sometimes: would we have more room in our schedule for loved ones if we had less stuff? 
Our home is neither grand nor luxurious. But what if we’d chosen drastically cheaper living arrangements? Would we then choose to work less, and hang out with our family more? Or would we maintain our current income and plow the leftover cash into other stuff?

How many times each day am I called to choose between a path that honors a relationship and a path that leads to stuff? Each decision point reflects a tension that’s been with humanity for a long, long, time.

I’m not a particularly acquisitive person. Still, I pray each day for the discernment to pick the relationship path. Always.

After all, even Abraham and his nephew, Lot, didn’t consider reducing their herds. They just discussed who would move.

5 Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. 6 But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. 7 So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.)

8 Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.”

Genesis 13:5-9 (NLT)


  1. Sheila
    What a stunningly insightful post. We have far too much stuff — but I never thougth about the impact it had on relationships until now.

  2. Thanks, David, for your comment. Happy to have triggered something 🙂

  3. Marcus Goodyear

    Yikes. That bit about Abraham not even considering reducing his herd struck me.

    In some ways it implies that reducing herds is not always the best option.

    Personally, though, we try to think constantly about living within our means and making sure our idea of "enough" doesn't get out of whack.

  4. Hmm, Marcus. Perhaps whether reducing the herds is wise is dependent upon the makeup of our third-millenium herd. I know that nothing I covet or accumulate in 2011 would be threatened by anthrax, nor even a severe drought.

    We strive not to covet. And we strive not to accumulate. And when we remember to ask for help in these strivings, we do an ok job.

    It's the remembering, always, to ask for help that trips me.

  5. I'm also a bit bothered by the title I put on this post. Love is a form of wealth, no?

  6. My wife has impressed this saying on me to the point where I have adopted it as my own: "People over Things." Many times what she means is that when I get upset about something being lost or damaged or broken I risk my relationship with her and my children. The thing can be replaced or repaired at a much lower cost than the damged relationship. Blessings!

  7. Ah, yes, Kim, like the expression:
    "Love people. Use things. Never confuse the two."

    Blessings to you, too!

  8. This is a culture-wide discussion just waiting to happen. You might enjoy slipping over to Cheryl Smith's blog on Saturdays, when she is inviting people to post about Simplicity. I think this perspective of yours would be good to keep in mind–simplicity for the sake of richer relationships.


    I loved slipping over here today, Sheila. I'll be thinking about this post as I grab a bag to fill for the Amvets truck to pick up tomorrow morning!

    Ann Kroeker
    Content Editor

  9. Ann,
    Thanks for the tip! Sometimes when I think of the time spent choosing stuff, cleaning stuff, maintaining stuff, updating stuff…well, it's enough to knock the stuffing out of me, if I may be pardoned for that horrendous pun.

    I'm glad you stopped by. I'll head over the Cheryl's to see what she's up to. Thanks.

  10. shrinkingthecamel.com

    Hmmm. Stuff vs. relationships. Does it really have to be either or? I don't view life so dichotomous, especially as I get older. I am more accepting of paradox, two competing truths, or seemingly disconnected ideas that perhaps both have some value.

    Which doesn't take away from your point — I think it is good to question material "stuff." But where do you draw the line? When does it become okay? How do you know when you are going from "needs" to "wants"? To me, it is all about personal attitude and relationship with God, and relationships with others. WHich is only something you can know.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    PS Always appreciate seeing your comments around at the High Calling site! 🙂

  11. Thanks, Bradley. The High Calling is my favorite corner of the blogosphere. And I agree that my post oversimplified that either/or….having a home gives us a place to welcome family and friends, to offer one blatant example. Loved ones appreciate gifts, which are usually stuff, for another.

  12. And then there's the guy in Bible who had so much stuff that he told himself he ought to build a bigger barn. That's a lot of stuff.

    I've been thinking about simplicity this year and recently read something else that presented the stuff vs. relationships concept. I'm not sure where the line is, or even if there is a line.

    I appreciate your thoughts here, and the conversation.

  13. Deidra, I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for contributing to the talk.

    I've often thought that the best way to keep one's stuff in check would be to move every three years.

    But I don't want to.

  14. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Insightful, Sheila!

    I've been doing my annual winter closet cleaning, and am always amazed at how much "stuff" I've accumulated.

    Also, it was great to see you featured at The Calling. You are such a blessing, and it's been a pleasure getting to know you around the network. Your voice and insights are greatly appreciated!

  15. Thanks, Jennifer!

    My cousin had a great tip for that closet cleaning. She suggests that we turn all our hangers backwards. When we wear an item, we then turn the hanger back in its proper direction. After six months, anything on a backwards hanger gets donated! She's clever, my cousin is.

    I'm blessed so much more than I bless, I fear.

  16. Your point with that last passage – I'd never really thought about that…

  17. :), Thanks, Kelly. Happy to have helped steer you to a new thought.

  18. Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life..

  19. Frances, those are words to live by. Or for.

  20. A Simple Country Girl

    Hello. I came over from THC feature links. Although we have always tried to live simply and we do not partake in any "keeping up with the Jones's" hoopla, this 3rd move in 13 months has shown us how much stuff we indeed have. Albeit, half of it is barn-n-farm stuff, but stuff is stuff!

    Thank you for your melding of scripture into our realities.


  21. @ Marcus, you said:

    "Yikes. That bit about Abraham not even considering reducing his herd struck me."

    It didn't just say his herd increased in size, it also said that his "tents" increased. Basically his tribe increased in numbers. It would be impossible to "thin" the herd without thinning the population or else starving some of his people.

    Abraham was not moving to preserve wealth, it was merely overcrowding of the populations.

  22. [I'm adding to the response I posted earlier, as I've further considered it]:

    That is an interesting take….though I don't see anything in the verses that suggests the herds and flocks had increased in perfect proportion to the humans.

    In any event, Abraham's tribe was increasing, as he had been promised, and one of the results of that blessing was that he could not remain in close proximity to his beloved nephew Lot without conflict erupting between their herdsmen.

    Whether thinning the herds was a viable option or not, Abraham's increasing wealth (more kin, more possessions, more slaves, more herds and flocks) impacted a relationship that mattered to him.

  23. Scott, Your post (even though it was directed to Marcus—this is my sandbox, so I reserve the right to chime in) has really led me to reflect more.

    Maybe another important point of the verses is that every blessing we receive carries a cost.

  24. Well said, Sheila…

    We've recently purchased a house half the size of the one we are in… now…how to make the adjustment… things have become so much less important… (well, other than the laptop, heaven knows that's a priority!)…

  25. Thanks, Bob! Happy little-housing. Ours is just under 1300 square feet, and we love it.