Originally printed as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel
After just a few minutes with Elena, you sensed that she was really rich. You could see it in the way she treasured the world's great literary works. Or the way she got carried away with Beethoven symphonies. Or the way she had learned to paint, for the sheer joy of it. Or the way she sliced to the heart of an issue with razor-keen intellect. And you could see how liberally she shared her wealth - her exuberance, her love for literature and music, her paintings, her ideas, her wonderful East European brown bread.
Ironically, though, Elena was anything but wealthy in terms of money. When I knew her in graduate school, she and her husband had just come to the United States, refugees from an oppressive regime in their country. They'd had to leave everything behind when they walked across the border - their family, their possessions, their clothing. Even their wedding rings.
So, without ever saying a word about it, Elena and her husband taught our family a lot about real wealth. Wealth that goes WAY beyond bank accounts or real estate or net worth. It was incredible to us that Elena and her husband never grieved over their losses. They never complained about their tiny campus apartment or tiny budget. And gradually we realized why.
The fact is, Elena and her husband hadn't lost everything. They still had all that truly mattered. They had their love for each other, their values, their reverence for beauty, their passion for freedom, their burning conviction that the forces for good must win out in the world. These were things no one could ever take away from them. And they knew it.
Elena's wealth was secure because it was fundamentally spiritual. She and her husband had the strongest faith in freedom, wisdom, integrity, beauty, goodness. These are values that actually come from God - from what the Bible calls "durable riches" (Prov. 8:18).
On the other hand, they had experienced firsthand how unreliable material wealth is. They had learned that, as the Bible says, "Riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Prov. 23:5).