Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sackcloth and Ashes

It is often easy to jump to conclusions before searching out a matter. One such case concerns my frugality series. Sometimes people do not understand why people of the past, enduring hardship, did not play it up or parade it, flaunt it, claiming they were not "ashamed."

Sometimes people think that because we do not announce a failure or a hardship, we are somehow ashamed of it, but that is not the case. Playing down a low-income or a loss of income, is not the same as being ashamed. For example, we are not ashamed of our bodies but we cover them and dress modestly to protect them and to give us privacy. It is not every one's business. We may have one messy room in our house that we close off to visitors, in order to hide our privacy and protect them from something that may depress them.

Having not experienced an era of hard times and observed the people and their behavior, for example, during the Depression, it is easy to misunderstood their beliefs. For example, they would dress up. They would not beg. They would not reveal their economic status to just anyone. It is difficult, in a day an age where everything is reveal all and tell-all, loudly broadcast on television talk-shows, to understand that personal privacy that people in hard times protected.

Keeping frugal times to themselves was also for the benefit of other people. They didn't want to concern other people with their problems, and cause distress to others. They also didn't want to appear to be begging. I have known ladies who concerned themselves with other people's problems so much that they literally made themselves ill over them. When someone told them some problem, they tried to solve it, rushing around gathering up things to help, even going to employment agencies to find jobs for people. They worried themselves sick, and so people have learned to say "We are doing fine," when such people ask how they are doing. If you tell them too much, they will stay awake at night, worrying and generally distress themselves until they are upset. That is not the way most people react, but it is generally good not to add burdens to people who tend to take it upon themselves to make things better, while neglecting their own families or their own health.

Whether or not this was once of the reasons to remain dignified during economic depression, one vital principle remains to shed further light on keeping a stiff upper lip. Jesus was critical of the hypocrites of his time, who when they fasted, went about with a sad countenance, disfiguring their faces, in order to give the appearance of fasting. In those days, people walked around in sackcloth and ashes, when they were in mourning, fasting, or in a state of repentance. He told his followers that they were were to fast in secret. They were to wash their faces and dress in such a way that no one would be able to tell they were fasting. They weren't supposed to announce it. Doing without material goods and money is somewhat like fasting. (Matthew 6:16:18)
If we are trying to manage our money and pay off our debts, people can be awfully curious. Eventually it becomes bore to explain (who wants to repeat their sad story over and over?) and so it is really better, and more uplifting, to look on the bright side, and talk on the bright side. This was the main purpose for the frugality posts.
Again, I would point you to the story, "When Queens Ride By," on the side bar of the theme articles. It reminds me of someone I knew, who, when the family was having a difficult time, would put on the best dinner she could. She said she was was not going to impose fear and uncertainty on her family, but confidence, in difficult times.


Mrs. V. said...

Amen Mrs Lydia!! I have known just the type of ladies you spoke of who would worry themselves sick over someone else's problems. While it is a good thing for them to have such a kind heart, what kind of person would want to add worry onto another? We each have our own hardships and do not need to add on those belonging to others. Yes, there are times to share and ask for help, but one must be discerning in to whom to confide. A mother or sister is different from the neighbor down the street.

Lynn said...

You talk a lot of good sense here.

Anonymous said...

Not only does complaining about frugality spread doom and gloom, it also eats up a lot of time. :-/
I've noticed that people who need to be frugal are much more careful with their time. Reading your posts has made me watch my own habits of how much I complain in general and how time consuming it really is. I've had a lot of guilt over the last week because your articles provoked me into thinking of the small things I could have done instead of spreading my problems everywhere.

I know you get a lot of nasty mail so I wanted you to know your articles provoked me in a good way. :-)

Many blessings,
Lizzy F.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

When my mother talked about the Depression, she said most people were in the same situation so they didn't feel like they were poor. Since they lived on a farm, they always had food and such.

I always remember my mom talking about the years when she was a young widow with seven children (she married my dad later). Her first husband died before Social Security came into being (just MONTHS before).

She said she would always be sure their clothes were washed and ironed, their hair looked good, etc. before going out in public.

She could never understand it when she saw people with unwashed and wrinkled clothing because it didn't cost anything for cleanliness.

Anonymous said...

I think people in the past (thinking of my grandparents) didn't talk about their frugality or finances or troubles, because they may not have thought that they were poor as long as they had a roof over their head and food to eat.

Now, our standard of what is a good life has become SO dependent on material items, that it is very easy to feel poor, when we may not be at all, by past standards or even standards in other countries around the world today.

~ Ann

Just Me said...

Lady Lydia - thank you for clearing this up for me. I must admit that I have not understood why people in the past felt they must put on a "brave front" when they were in despair. It seemed a bit like "lying" to me. I don't think that we should wallow in our depression, by any means. Yet, I never understood the reasoning of the Depression-era society until you reminded me of Jesus' own words.

Julie said...

This series has been an amazing time for me. Just reading your words has completely changed how I feel about being frugal.
Thank you so much.
I think this post is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you for addressing this. Just the other day, I mentioned this very thing to my own children, & put it in the context of burdening other people. Sometimes, really, it is the kindest thing we can do, to keep some of our problems to ourselves. It protects us from being the subject of gossip, spares another person the embarassment of having to react to our "bad news", & helps make us stronger, too. All, very good reasons to keep quiet, work hard not to look pathetic, & try to be a "lifter", not a "leaner".


Anonymous said...

It really is bizarre to me in the cases when dignity itself has been so maligned that when one wishes to maintain it even through adverse events (such as poverty or necessary frugality) that one is viewed as being ashamed! It just doesn't make sense to me. And exactly so, when we dress to cover our bodies the world would view us as uptight, unhappy, hiding something of which we are ashamed--I have myself been questioned if I had suffered abuse that has caused me to be uncomfortable dressing in shorts or sleeveless tops! This is how out of touch the world has become to such things as manners, and personal dignity and self respect. The rude and overly curious world would leave us nothing to ourselves, from our bodies to our personal financial circumstances. And when our trust in God's providence for our needs is healthy, I think it is to a greater extent in prayer that we unburden ourselves than in telling our struggles to others in order to absorb their comfort and care.

The Proverbs Wife said...

I have chosoen in the past to become transparent with some of my friends and family over the years regarding me and my husbands financial situation.

A friend of mine was overwhelmed with debt and had implied that my husband and I had it all together financially. I had even had family members who expected me and my husband to shell out money for all sorts of things at the drop of a hat.

We had to have a serious talk with them to inform them that simply because we don't gripe about our hardships doesn't mean that they don't exist.

We have learned to be content in whatever state we find ourselves. We have also adopted the idea that there is no need to burden others with your problems when you have the Lord.

Melissa said...

This post and the link to "When a Queen Rides By" is exactly what I needed this evening. Thank you!

Many Blessings,

Anonymous said...

I agree whole heartedly with your series here. My DH works with a fellow who has a large family and unfortunatley a wife who is not very good with money. When this fellow saw that my DH was taking an overtime shift he walked up to him and said "How does it feel to take food out of my kids' mouths?" My DH and his co-workers went out of their ways to make sure that everyone got a fair share of the overtime and this fellow was often given first dibs, on top of that...this guy was already on duty! I believe this is the type of thing you are talking about.

We have had our share of lean time and have never mentioned it to anyone. When we feast we don't mention it either, it is in very bad taste. We simply decline to do things when we can't afford it. However, we have had the misfortune of going out to eat with groups of people that include couples that are apparently (by their own doing) in dire financial straights and have seen them order drinks, appetizers and a full meal and then when the check comes around to get split hand over ten dollars. Or very slowly count out their money as if waiting for someone to say "I'll get it."

That is irresponsible, no one owes you anything and you burden people when you act like this. And you know, these types of people are always in this type of circumstances, yet always seem to have the newest cars, biggest televisions and jewlery.

The worst was when as a very young married couple a young family who were are neighbors confided in us that they were in a very bad situation financially and were trying to get out of it. We opened our closets and pantry and gave them a bunch of stuff that I had been saving for our emergencies. The NEXT day, they came home after shopping and going to the beauty palor. They told us that they were going to file bankruptcy anyway so they decided to go shopping and get some things (toys, clothes, electronics). We were VERY careful after this with who we helped. We helped them when we were in lean times ourselves and I won't put us in that position again.

There is a BIG difference between this type of thing and genuine need where we Christians should jump and help.

Many Blessings :)

Sue said...

Your frugal series has been so good to read. Thank you again for such good advice.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we need to also be private about our successes. My husband and I just paid off our house, but it is our choice to keep our financial affairs between the two of us. In the meantime we plan to look for others who need help since we no longer must have all the money my husband makes. But again, this is a private choice and is not something we want to boast to the world. Privacy of all kinds is underrated in our modern world.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Lady Lydia. I am very tired of hearing the call to "authenticity, genuineness, and transparency" among Christians, meaning that we ought to tell our struggles to anyone who will listen. There most definitely is a place for privacy or seeking the help of just one or two people and not telling our troubles to the whole world. I'm not advocating putting up false fronts but rather having a positive attitude and giving thanks in all circumstances as the Scriptures teach. Thank you for these much-needed words.