My understanding of the scriptures changes as I mature…the meaning I attribute to scripture often expands and changes as my understanding of life, of nature, and of God changes and expands. There is more depth and breadth to the words of the gospel than what is immediately recognizable upon first introduction, and our blessing and duty is to search out these full, deeper meanings and apply them to our lives. For example, my understanding of Matthew 6:24 has deepened lately. It reads:
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
I always took this scripture to mean that we should simply put God, and serving Him, as our first priority. And that seeking riches was both necessary and expected as long as kept in proper perspective. How else can one support family and self? How else can one be able to better serve others? I now feel that this understanding is influenced greatly by our assumption that the “normalcy” society provides somehow adheres to God’s plan for His children or at least is the only way, even while many of us realize society is ever increasing in its level of decay. May I suggest that the “norms” of our society and way of life rarely adhere to God’s plan for His children. And to be fair, this is the world we have grown up in and it can be difficult to see any reality but the one we know. It is, so-to-speak, “the box” in which we’ve grown up and is hard to think “outside of.” Life has not always been this way, though, nor is it meant to be. For instance, did you know that in 1790, 90% of Americans both lived and worked in the same place? It was the norm for families to live and work together. Now that statistic is lower than 4%, and I do not believe that has been a positive change for the family.
So, let me share with you my own story of learning a further depth of meaning for Matthew 6:24 and how that has impacted our goals and plans as a family:
About 5 years ago we were a young family with two daughters and a plan to adopt future children. My how things change! My husband had a stable job that provided sufficiently for our needs and for me to be a stay-at-home mom. We were in the process of adding onto and remodeling our home ourselves. We started the project realizing that our first home, a two-bedroom, one bath, dining room-free house, wasn’t adequate for adopting future children and we wanted a third bedroom completed by the time our adoption homestudy was finished. Well, the adoption still hasn’t happened 5 years later though we have added 3 more children to our family, and our house-related plans morphed eventually into our plan to sell the house once the addition and remodel was completed. With the equity we’d receive from the sale, we’d buy land and build our next home ourselves without a mortgage and, at most, a land loan. The plan was to eventually sell that house as well, build ourselves with cash again, and repeat the process every few years, thereby earning more money and perhaps even eventually carrying some loans ourselves with owner-financing for a long-term source of monthly income.
As most well-laid plans go, they went. My husband had to change jobs in a hurry, that required a long-distance move, right as I gave birth to our first son, and while money was tight and the house wasn’t quite finished. The housing market also decided to collapse right after we put our house up for sale. It took us a year to sell the house and while we didn’t officially take a loss on it due to the sweat equity we’d added, it took us a couple of years to become self-sufficient again because of the costs of moving, unexpected medical bills, and especially due to making house payments while also paying rent. Recovery was a long process, and we learned a great many things as we went and continue to learn even now.
We learned that it was better to have a job that paid less if my husband had less stress, more freedom, integrity in the workplace, and was treated respectfully by his employer. We learned that debt is the root of all evil. Okay, that is only a joke…kind of. We learned that selling a house without a mortgage to earn money isn’t our true goal, but owning a house without a mortgage is. We’ve also been learning about self-sufficiency and lowering costs in various areas of our life, one step at a time.
So what does all this have to do with not being able to serve God and mammon? The Bible Dictionary states that Mammon is an Aramaic word meaning riches. All this time we were seeking more riches and we did seek them with good intent, but the Lord has been our steadfast teacher and helped us to gain a new understanding, another view of the world and our part in it. I don’t know quite how or when this awakening came because it was a gradual learning process. Part of our learning was due to “meeting” some good friends online who are very like-minded and live a lifestyle different from society’s norm, part through our learning to be more self-sufficient in small ways now, partly from reading historical fiction and novels about the Amish where such lifestyles were the norm, partly from learning about freedom in all its facets and how far we’ve regressed, partly from reading survival and “end of days” books where survival skills and preparedness are so vital yet nearly unheard of, partly from learning about Zion, and mostly, thanks to the Lord’s guidance and the spirit touching our hearts and opening our understanding. I know our learning will never be completed in this life, but I will be forever grateful for the knowledge we’ve gained.
As with many blessings, this one came after another time of great struggle and searching. The above struggles humbled us and made us teachable, but it was the following struggles that brought the answers we were seeking: We had purchased a repossessed house that we knew was a blessing and a choice we had been led to make, but we were having difficulty keeping up with the bills that came with the new house and 5 children on a single, lower income. As a means to save money we: invested in cloth diapers for our then-three boys still in diapers; I’d started to learn to make many store-bought food items from scratch such as tortillas, crackers, noodles, yogurt, etc.; we started using forms of re-useable napkins, tissues, paper towels, even TP; we used wood heat; we bought stainless sports bottles that could be adapted as baby bottles then later sippys and adapted back to sports bottles so that once we’d bought them we didn’t have to buy more; through our animals we were providing our own milk, eggs and meat, and we started gardening (okay, we aren’t good yet, but we’re learning), meaning we only had to buy bulk food storage and fresh fruits and vegetables for our groceries. We cut out a LOT of expenses, when compared to others ours were already low. Still we were unable to actually put any money away, these changes simply made it possible for us to continue to get by. Anything that went wrong caused us to increase our debt, despite our determination to get rid of all debt.
Finally as a sort of last-ditch effort, I took a night job sorting, bundling, and delivering papers not because the pay was great but because it was the only job that we could work into our schedule with 5 kids ages 7 to less than a year. I would leave home around 11pm to head for work, arriving home again around 7am. My husband would then get up, milk goats and feed animals and head to work. The children would soon wake and I was too exhausted to be any real use as a mother, aside from making sure the bare minimums of food, clothing, and safety were present. Homeschooling and family time were all but gone. My husband would arrive home around 5 or 6 at which time I’d head straight to bed until awoken again at 11pm for work. It was in all reality one of the worst times for our family and we realized that we just couldn’t continue on in that manner. We didn’t know how we’d afford to keep going but we knew that we couldn’t make it work. I tried cutting my job back to part time (filling in only when the full-time workers were on vacation/sick leave), but after a month of full-time “part time” work with another month of full-time work ahead, I quit entirely.
This also coincided with the time my husband found out that our health insurance premiums, which already cost us a great deal of money every month (we live in a very expensive area as far as goods and services are concerned), were going up another couple hundred dollars per month. There was literally no room in the budget to meet the increasing costs, and even if we’d somehow found the money, we couldn’t have afforded to pay the deductible to make use of the insurance! After much struggle (mostly with myself and my preconceived view of how easy life should be), we realized that we could go without health insurance. We have not signed up for routine socialized medicine, and thus far the Lord has blessed us so that we haven’t yet had any need to truly decide whether to accept it at a time of severe injury or sickness. President Marion G. Romney said in his talk “The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance”:
“We cannot afford to become wards of the government, even if we have a legal right to do so. It requires too great a sacrifice of self-respect and political, temporal, and spiritual independence.”
It was a gamble to go without insurance, sure, but the Lord will provide because He knows our hearts, our struggles, and the effort we are making to follow Him. The silver lining to Obama Care’s raising our insurance rates beyond our ability to pay was that it now opened up a great deal of money we were paying in premiums each month to go towards paying bills, paying off debt, and increasing our preparedness and self-sufficiency efforts. In reality most of that money went to cover the bills we were falling behind on monthly, but already living a more self-sufficient lifestyle has made it possible for us to make better use of the money left over post-bills, and we truly feel richly blessed as we see our progress. The Lord has indeed made our weakness our strength, our trial a blessing.
What we began to realize was that we are stuck dead in the middle of two worlds…the self-sufficient way of life and the Babylonian/mammon way of life. My husband must work for a living to pay the mortgage, the bills, the taxes, etc. Yet we must spend great amounts of time cooking healthily and from scratch when possible, cleaning, planting and harvesting, caring for our animals, homeschooling our children, fulfilling our callings, and hopefully have time left over to have fun and spend time together as a family. We don’t have sufficient money to remove some of our time constraints (Who wouldn’t want a maid or a farm hand, really?), nor do we have the time to do everything ourselves and from scratch to remove the monetary constraints (thanks to a full-time job). We’re in the middle of both worlds unable to live either fully. We have been trying to serve two masters. It doesn’t work. But with the Lord’s help, we are learning to hate mammon and love God.
But how do you hold to God and despise mammon when we live in Babylon? What does that look like? How does it work? I’m sure the answer is different for everyone, but for us we realized that we could indeed be in the world and not of it. We are making an effort to actually throw off the system by involving ourselves in it as little as possible. For us that means homesteading with both parents at home and with very minimal expenses. When talking to others online with similar desires, they often think it would take a great deal of start-up money. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t, and that it is not just an end goal but also a process. Because we still have both time and money constraints and are stuck in the Babylonian system, we haven’t been able to make the full jump to homesteading and self-sufficiency yet. It is a slow process, but at the same time I feel so blessed when I look at the changes within us and the progress we’ve already made. We’ve learned so much, gained skills, and prepared so that even if we never do make it to our “end goal”, we’re that much more prepared and self-sufficient where we are. The Lord is indeed blessing and teaching us. It will take time, sacrifice, and a lot of effort and patience, but I know that as with anything of value, the end goal is worth any sacrifice to get there.