In eleventh grade, I viciously researched and passionately composed an essay on why God doesn’t want Christians to be rich. My beliefs only grew stronger as I got older, and eventually I loved and married a man who hated the pursuit of riches as much as I did, maybe more. He had been raised under the prosperity “gospel” (Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and the like) and had seen its atrocious effects on people he loved, so the stench of wealth reeked to him. We made less than $19k our first year of marriage, and we were so, so happy. We depended on God to provide a vacuum cleaner we needed, and a customer gave us one (that we still use today.) I needed some clothes for the baby, and a neighbor's cousin dropped off a garbage bag full of them at our door. I felt like I was living out the biographies I'd read about people who depended on God. I loved it.
But work started slowing down and we had dreams of more children, so we both knew the income needed to increase a bit. So when a friend asked if Peter could wash her patio, he said "yes!" and with our two-week-old son, we drove to Home Depot and invested $500 on a pressure washer. It was a huge risk for us at the time. Peter's first “rig” was the backseat of our car, his first business cards were printed on perforated paper at our apartment’s clubhouse, and he found work by going door to door asking if anyone needed their driveway cleaned.
Despite the humblest of beginnings, the business grew fast. After three years, he was able to hire employees and walk away from doing the actual pressure washing himself. We bought a big house on a nice chunk of land with a workshop that would accommodate all his mac-daddy rigs. And now, nearly six years into business, at only 27 years old, he has seven employees, owns more trucks and equipment than I can keep track of, he started a second venture to keep busy during slow season, he gave a talk at the pressure washing convention in New Orleans, he has 100 five-star ratings on Google, and business is good. There isn’t really a way to describe what happened other than “prosperity.”
And, besides the first year of his business and until the latter half of 2017, I had been against all of it.
I regret to say that for a solid four years, my husband truly did not have my support. When people told me they were proud of him, I would stiffly thank them but later I would cry. I couldn't let myself say that God "blessed" his business, because material success felt so much like a curse. As he navigated hiring and letting go of employees or as he dealt with frustrating customers, I felt embarrassed and ashamed, even though he was truly doing a great job. Every single day I wished his job was different, and I longed for the good old days when he could clock in and clock out, and together we would manage our tiny paycheck. I hated our house, our stuff, our lives. I felt suffocated by comfort and the future seemed so dreadful—-so unrecognizably far from the selfless, simple life I envisioned—that I would have panic attacks weekly and I legitimately sunk into depression for years. Both of us were so off base with our view of work—Peter was slipping into greed and materialism, and I was full-fledged hateful, controlling, and self-righteous—that our animosities were feeding each other, and our marriage was a total disaster. We were committed to “death do us part” and we still had plenty of repentance, forgiveness, and bright spots as a family, but it was really, really ugly.
Even as my heart began to change, the word "success", when spoken in terms of business, made me want to gag. Why should a Christian think that making money can be viewed as “success” when the love of money is the root of all evil?
Peter and I had a long fireside conversation and I realized just how narrow and undeveloped my theology of work has been. We agreed that there’s a huge gap between entrepreneurial leadership gurus and humble, Christlike men, so we wondered: what is the in-between even supposed to look like? Is it possible to have an in-between? Can you be a successful businessman or woman and a selfless Christian who refuses to waste his or her life? Our navigation of this whole topic has been extremely messy, priorities have been all over the place, and thousands of dollars have been wasted as we figure it out, but for the first time I’m hopeful, excited, and I see our position of “success” as a blessing from God, maybe even a position that others should seek after and feel equipped to do themselves.
Here are some reasons that I now think Peter’s business is a good thing:
-His business supports twenty people when we include his employees' spouses and children. Because of this business, people who needed to get out of terrible or nonexistent jobs have been provided for. Because of this business I’m able to stay home and focus on loving and raising world-changers. We have four of them now, and I don’t think it’s prideful to say that no one can do my job as well as I can.
-His business frees his employees to worship God and give generously. Because of this business, there are eight fewer people who have to worry about working on Sunday or about making such tiny paychecks that they can’t give to others.
-His business makes many connections in our area and his knowledge and experience are a help to other business owners. They need to know someone who can say, “I’m successful, but that’s not ultimate to me. Also, here are some tips for sealing pavers or fixing a broken nozzle.” For once, they can meet a guy who is “networking” because he cares about other people, not because he’s trying to get something out of them. That’s pretty much unheard of, and it’s refreshing to them.
-His business sets us up for extremely generous giving in the long-term. This is a huge point of difficulty for me—especially considering that the poisonous prosperity gospel tells you that God wants you to be rich so you can give more—but I’m seeing that there’s such a thing as “seasons.” We need to give consistently and generously, but there’s also a place for investing so you can give more. There’s the parable of the guy who wasted his life building storehouses for all his stuff, but there’s also the parable of the guy who was given little but multiplied it greatly, to the pleasure of his boss...to the pleasure of God.
-The fragility of wealth should serve not only as a warning, but it should lead us in worship. Peter’s business is successful today. Something could happen tomorrow and we could lose it all. BUT the fact that there is success at all reminds us of God’s sovereignty. He owns everything and does what He wants. The ability to work is from Him (Deuteronomy 8:18.)
-There is rich theology in taking something small and making it grow into something beautiful, like a mustard seed that grows into a tree. It’s God who said “be fruitful and multiply.” There’s biblical language of that all over the place. If I can only see a pressure washing business as something good and beautiful, I can see my husband at the helm of it as an agent of good.
I'm so grateful God has been liberating me from so much closed-mindedness and from a terrible theology of work.
I'm grateful Peter stuck with me even when I pulled against him instead of strengthening him. I'm grateful to live in America, where entrepreneurship can thrive (even though the amount we're taxed is absolutely stupid.)
I'm grateful for awesome employees, and I'm grateful we live in a town where plenty of people have given this young guy a chance.
I'm grateful for Peter's Pressure Washing, and I would love to see more Christians owning successful businesses---yes, I used that "s" word---without compromising their passion for Jesus and making Him known in the world.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today