What's In Your Hand?

by Wendy Capehart
(originally posted on Pleonast)

In 1983 we had a baby on the way -- and no jobs. My husband’s boss died, and his wife disbanded the company and returned to Holland, her native country. We began a long stretch of using it up, wearing it out, making it do, and doing a whole of doing without. We learned to look around and make do with what we had in all sorts of creative ways, because necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and our necessity was urgent.

I once put together a cute toddler birthday party with construction paper, dental floss, toilet paper and food coloring. I learned to host our church’s young married couples with iced tea, home-made bread, and board games gleaned from yard sales. I learned to use thrifted receiving blankets in three different ways, and I discovered that in a pinch dish towels could save me a trip to the store for diapers. I learned that stew and cornbread could and should be served to guests without apology, and I found new ways to use sour milk, stale bread, and leftover rice. I built on what I had learned first from my mother- that thrift is largely a matter of attitude, of changing one’s expectations and ideas about entitlement.

When we’d been married about ten years, and practicing that frugal lifestyle most of that time, I came across a magazine article that gave me a slogan for how we’d been living. The article referenced the story in the Old Testament where God speaks to Moses and gives him a task to do- to go down to Egypt and tell the Israelites he is to lead them out of captivity and into freedom.

That’s a remarkable task. Moses thinks he is inadequate, feels unprepared, incapable, unready. He says he can’t. He asks “What if they don’t believe me?” God’s reply seems to be a little odd. God asks of Moses, “What do you have in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2).

What do you have in your hand? What kind of a question is that? God has just directed Moses to go to the Hebrew people and tell them he is their new leader, that God has spoken to him directly and that he’s going to get them out of Egypt. Clearly, if Moses thought anything he had in his hand was adequate to the task, he wouldn’t have asked, “How can I do that? What if they won’t believe me?”

So what did Moses have in his hand? It was a simple shepherd’s staff -- a common, every day tool that he always had with him. It was as significant and remarkable as your mop, vacuum, a wooden spoon, a rake, or a shovel. It was a common, ordinary, tool Moses used every day in his regular and very humble work as a shepherd.

The story goes on to tell how God worked a mighty miracle through Moses and that very ordinary staff in his hand, and Moses went on to lead his people out of Egypt. You can read it in the first few chapters of Exodus. I have a more homely application -- before you go to the store or get online to buy something, ask yourself, "What do I have in my hand?" That is perhaps wrenching the text out of its context, but it does make it easier to remember this concept. We won’t be working any miracles like leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, but we might be able to use our ordinary staff to help us get out of debt, or at least to shorten that stretch of month at the end of the money. We just think carefully about what we already have in our hands.

We begin with ourselves. We have ourselves in our hands -- and we need to place ourselves in God’s hands. If Moses were alive today and was a typical specimen of our century and culture, he’d be explaining that he couldn’t go do what God wanted Him to do until he bought a suit and tie, went back to school for specialized training classes, paid for extra textbooks, learned to ‘dress for success,’ got his hair done properly, bought a few publicity photographs, hired a public relations guy, went down to the Christian Bookstore and picked up a few self-help books, and … -- all those things are window dressing for the most part, and every one of those things would cost money.

That’s how we tend to be, too. We get a bright idea of something we want to do, and our first step is to go buy something to make it happen -- to improve our lives by purchasing accessories, to recreate ourselves in the image of a glossy magazine, and to buy our way into being better organized, better mothers, better wives, better women.

But you can’t buy self-improvement, and you certainly can’t buy your way to frugality. The first step on the road to frugality is to learn to ask ourselves instead, ‘What do I have in my hand?’ Look around you and see what your resources are, and make do with what you have.

What do you have in your hand?