Young adult commentary: the value of a paycheck
Is money a touchy subject for young adults? Ten years ago I could have said money didn’t hold much importance, because I didn’t have any, and only needed enough to keep me in food, gas, and school books. I would sell plasma on a weekend to fill up my car so I could drive to my parents’ house to do laundry and eat all their food, and that was ok. It was accepted and expected because I was a “starving college student.” It’s the time in life one can be proud to be poor: it’s a sign of independence and not “buying” into the system of materialism and all the other “ism”s young people take pride being free from because we’re rising stars who have our own plans and dreams and are going to make the world better.
But then we graduate and decide we want something more than just a studio apartment and Count Chocula for dinner every night. We realize making a difference might involve a little more work, but hey, that gets us a little more money, and even though money’s not important it would be nice to have a decent car, grown up clothes….and hey, plasma flat screens are on sale!
When does it hit us? When does money become important? Does it signify that we are finally getting old? Not just the impulse spending with every credit card that was thrown at us whilst in college, but the need for stability, to project the announcement that we have moved on, matured, gotten ourselves together, and can be a success. What does money mean to us in this generation? Have we gotten to a point where our jobs/careers really are the extenuations of ourselves we always hoped they would be, or did we have to settle for something that was more practical and more secure? How alluring is that image of security to us now, with perhaps a significant other in the picture, or even children, or just the desire to live in a place where you can’t see your bathroom from where you watch TV.
Does this mean we have bought into what we swore to fight against? Has our individuality been taken away because we are now like everyone else? I don’t think this is all necessarily the case; we are in a time when who we are personally and what we want to achieve can be a part of what we do to earn a living. We have emerged as a generation who want to get involved in projects and work that’s not just about the generic dream of changing the world, but the concrete experience of changing people’s lives. Whether or not this produces a salary is becoming less important; and yet we still want that Wii. Where is the line drawn? Do we let our passion for life allow what we are going to do for a living (if that is allowed, and right now that might not be the case) or are we pulled more toward the bigger paycheck?
One of the defining moments that answered my discernment in going into professional ministry happened right after I came back from a mission trip to Bay St. Louis, MS right after Hurricane Katrina had struck. I had spent a week there with a mission team clearing debris in a place that had been literally all but destroyed; and coming back, watching everyone walking downtown about their business, eyes either downward or anywhere besides to the people around them, I thought “Is this it? Is this all there is? Is this all I can do?” I had spent many years trying to decide whether or not ministry was something I wanted to be a part of full time, but at that moment, I realized there wasn’t anything else I could do and retain what I had felt in Mississippi. Was it going to come with a great paycheck? Probably not, but it was going to give so much more. And it has. Since going into ministry I have seen God’s grace at work in many things, including the generous giving of people. It is true that we want to be able to have security (along with the toys) but we also have a drive to make a difference, and we are in a time which we are seeing generosity in action, not just with our money, but with our very selves.
Smith is a regular contributor to GBOD's "Devotions by Young Adults for Young Adults." Courtesy of GBOD.