95: Lifestyle versus Life

95: Lifestyle versus Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Lifestyle versus Life

I’m living my life, not buying a lifestyle.
~Barbara Kruger

The “perfect” lifestyle is never worth the cost of your life. If you have to sacrifice the quality of your family life or your spiritual life to keep up with your lifestyle ideals, you’re cheating yourself. Society tells us if we just get that one more thing, we will be happy. Time after time, we give in only to find that we’re still not really happy, so we go back to looking for that “one more thing.”

One day two years ago, my husband, Scott, came home from work utterly depressed and burned out. The truth was that he’d been depressed for a couple of years. It is amazing what I could ignore in the busyness of our everyday lives. Just when you think you have everything together, life caves in on you. In all honesty, I panicked.

We lived in what I call “Stepford”—a very nice planned community for families. Little league under the lights, soccer fields, hiking trails, golf courses, you name it. We had a beautiful home, a great church, good schools for the kids, and a very comfortable lifestyle. We had the right cars, the right job, the right vacations. What we were lacking was a family life. Scott worked sixty to ninety hours a week. That’s not a typo. That was our reality. He worked that crazy schedule for fifteen years. No wonder he was depressed.

Time isn’t something you can ever earn back. Scott missed birthday parties and holidays and everything else in between for his career. I was raising our kids alone and also getting burned out—I wasn’t doing it well, because I was doing it alone. In reality, our family didn’t make a very pretty picture even though it was wrapped up in a beautiful package.

That month of our reckoning with reality, we faced some tough questions.

Is the time away from family worth the money Scott is making? If he quits his job, will we be able to provide for our four kids? When we began to talk about our current finances (which I was in charge of at the time), Scott asked me if I might have a gambling problem. “Of course not!” I said huffily. But then I realized the truth: our lifestyle was supported by credit cards. Our community was expensive. Keeping up with the Joneses never seemed to be at the forefront of our goals, but it certainly always lurked in the shadows.

We finally came to the same conclusion. Scott could not keep working at the same pace and survive. I could not keep raising our children alone and survive. What should we do? Tough questions require tough answers.

We prayed, our church prayed, our friends prayed, and then we prayed some more. Then we made the tough decision: we would move back to Scott’s home state and live with his mother until our house sold. He would look for a job that would support our new goal of working together to raise our kids and nourish our marriage.

We thought the process would take under six months; it actually took a year and a half. That’s a long time to be in limbo—and I didn’t like it at all. I got angry and stubborn and bitter. Why shouldn’t I have a nice house? Why shouldn’t we have nice clothes and a vacation and all those wonderful things? I still wanted my lifestyle. I liked the nice house, the pool, the golf course. There I was stuck in a house I didn’t even own, with not one thing of my own around me—and for what?

Needless to say, that year was our stretching year. We were stretched, our marriage was stretched, our kids were stretched. But was the lifestyle we gave up worth the price of my marriage, my children’s happiness, and my authentic happiness? I came to realize that the answer to this question was an easy one. No. Never.

The “perfect” lifestyle is never worth the cost of your life.

When we began to ask the tough questions and pray about what we knew would be tough answers, we began to put our priorities in order. But I had a lot to learn, and my heart didn’t change overnight. I came to realize that while I may have been caring for my kids 24/7 all those years, I had also been selfish. In many ways, I had put my wants and needs above those of my family. To be selfish is to be human, but when I look back, I know I was most miserable while I was separating myself from God by prioritizing my lifestyle over the life He wanted for me.

In our new fish-out-of-water living arrangement, I finally picked up my dusty Bible and began to re-establish my faith life. Then I took a good hard look at my heart and chose to bloom where God had planted me. I began re-connecting with God. While our circumstances haven’t changed much, I am truly content. Our current “lifestyle” would be laughable by my old standards, but our family has never been closer—or more engaged in our faith lives.

I think I can sum it up with a conversation I had in the car one day with my fourteen-year-old son. I was trying to explain that while we didn’t have as much “stuff” as we had in Arizona, his dad and I had made these decisions so that we could have a closer family. Tyler simply stated, “You know what, Mom? I think I saw Dad more in the first year we lived here than in the previous twelve years of my life.”

That alone made every day of stretching ourselves worth it. The truth is, we may have given up everything we used to identify ourselves by, but what we got in exchange was priceless: we got our lives back.

~Kay Klebba

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