Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Worth it...

I wrote previously that I'm teaching a dear friend of mine and we had a bit of a discussion about whether she should pay me.

That brought a lot of things into focus for me in terms of how I look at money and time and work. I had a lot of talks with various friends in person and online, trying to figure out how to respond specifically and more generally. In the end I came to the conclusion that any money anyone gives me as a concession to the fact that I cannot live on air, rather than anything approaching fair compensation. Money is just not the motivating factor for my work, and I do work based on whether it seems fulfilling and worthwhile, not based on whether or how much I will be paid.

But with that said, with the establishment that money I receive from this student or from anyone is a concession, a gift, I should have been comfortable about it, yes?

What I realised is that I'm really not. It's a little easier to accept money from people I don't have such a strong fondness for, and from people whose financial situation is clearly much better than my own, but I still run into all sorts of internal objections about value and worth, despite the very pragmatic point that at the moment I am not yet earning enough to pay my own rent. That's partly about thinking it's impossible to put a monetary value on human labour, but it's also about thinking I don't deserve the good things of this world, rejecting the gifts I have been given. Since we need money to live in this society, it's in some twisted way a rejection of life. I was thinking about this over the weekend, wrestling with it really. How can I judge what is worthy and what is not, who is worthy and who is not? I can only experience the world as myself -- and that experience says the world has pain and joy, bitter and sweet. And there are people far more deserving of sweetness who only get the bitterness, people who should have only joy and instead endure terrifying pain. And as much as I yearn for joy and sweetness, as much as I have some human drive to meet my basic physical needs, I don't honestly feel I deserve them.

My refusal to engage with financial issues in a constructive way is either a rejection of the world or a rejection of myself. Maybe a rejection of the idea that I have any right to be here...

So, yesterday I saw a spiritual director. I met her a few weeks ago and we had a chat and some lunch and I decided that yes, this would be a constructive thing to try. It's not that I don't think God can tell me whatever God wants me to know about what I'm meant to do, but more that I have such difficulty listening.

I wasn't sure, on my way to our meeting, what I would bring up. So many of the things that were weighing heavily on me a few months ago are complete non-issues now, or issues I'm happy to just sit with and see what happens.

I should have known that the financial stuff would come into it. Really, I should have known. And in the meeting itself I didn't feel like we were getting anywhere. We discussed various social and professional issues around accepting payment for services even from friends, but I've been through those again and again, and they're clear enough, but they are of this world, not of God's kingdom. We talked about opportunity cost, about having finite time to do all the work we might feel called to, about not having the resources to "give to everyone who asks of you" let alone everyone you might like to give to. We spoke of the difficulty for anyone in deciding who is worthy, who is not. We touched of God loving people anyway, spent some time on dependence on God which means that we cannot save ourselves through works or faith or anything else but it is God who saves, but this doesn't mean we can just throw in the towel and stop trying.

It was good to air these things, to go through them yet again, but it didn't feel like there was any sort of breakthrough. I've not been for spiritual direction before, I'm going into this without an idea of what is "meant" to happen or how things work. It wasn't unpleasant, but I was still left wrestling with this idea of how to accept that even if money only seems relevant to me at the most unimportant levels, even if money can never be an accurate indicator of worth anyway, people pay me because they recognise some worth in what I am doing.

About five minutes down the road I thought, "hey, WAIT A MINUTE!... God thinks I am worth dying for, so bugger what anyone else has to say about it. The only one who can accurately judge the worth of any human being is God. The judgement has already been made."

It is late, and I am tired, and I don't know how much of that realisation will stick, how much of it I would have come anyway if I hadn't had yet another conversation about all those surface issues. I suspect this is something I don't get to learn once, but instead will keep tripping over.

But it means I can perhaps put aside my own evaluations of worthiness and my concerns about whether it is right for me to accept payment. The judgement has already been made, and here I am in the world, and let's deal with the pragmatic stuff, like getting to the point where I can pay my own rent. I'm not going to take any money dishonestly and I'm not going to chase after it and abandon my standards of what my housemate has called right livelihood, but I can perhaps accept it a little more lightly, not get so worried about whether I really deserve to be in this world. I can get on with doing the work, even if people insist on paying me. It doesn't have to be an argument, it doesn't have to be turmoil. I have already been judged worthy. So has all creation.

Thanks be to God.


Arkady said...

Max Ehrmann's Desiderata sprang to mind as I was reading this entry, particularly the following two verses:

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

(You can find the whole text here.)

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Arkady.

Kathryn said...

Truth can be found like jewels just lying around on the ground...
So glad of all this :-)

Ernest said...


I was thinking about your dilemma and the word 'worthiness' struck me as perhaps part of the problem.

Some definitions I found:

Deservingness, Meritoriousness, merit - the quality of being deserving.

Laudability, Laudableness, praiseworthiness - the quality of being worthy of praise.

Goodness, good - that which is pleasing or valuable or useful; "weigh the good against the bad"; "among the highest goods of all are happiness and self-realization"

So when I look at your dilemma in the light of these, I find that all of them describe some or all of the situation you are in, although the happiness part might still be under discussion.

I sense that there might be other reasons not clear to me for the situation - but I feel that receiving gifts for you giving your services as a music tutor and mentor, is perhaps a form of barter, exchanging services for goods (e.g. monetary value of the goods or services provided). It is not in my view, money for hire or reward in the traditional sense.

Perhaps this might be a way forward?

it's margaret said...

Yes. I understand.
No easy way through it.
Grateful you have found peace with it.

Song in my Heart said...

Sorry fr the delay in commenting, folks!

Kathryn, I'm glad too. But you know that, I think. And I'm glad to have you and others to share this stuff with, like a little kid who finds a particularly sparkly rock or an interesting shell on the beach.

Ernest, thanks for a thoughtful response which, as usual, gives me more to think about. I don't think of the happiness part as "still under discussion" though -- I think it's possible to be happy without being satisfied. Being happy with where I am doesn't mean I can't strive to improve. But I do think happiness is a relative thing, and compared to where I was a few years ago I am far happier, far more at peace with the world.

Margaret, I'm grateful, too. And hopeful that I can remember this next time I struggle seriously... it keeps coming back at odd moments.