when life doesn’t add up

when life doesn’t add up March 30, 2016

Well, today’s the day.  I had my taxes done last week, and today’s the day that thousands of dollars get withdrawn from my account because, even though I live near the poverty level, I owe thousands of dollars because of a killer self-employment tax.
When I came home from my accountant’s office last week, I sat down on the floor and held my head in my hands.  Never have I worked so hard and had so little to show for it.

I started doing the math on my life.  Last year, between speaking engagements, being the author-in-residence, and serving at a hospital in Togo, I traveled to 22 states, 9 countries and 5 continents.

The math continued.

Number of nights I slept at home?

Number of weeks I’ve attended the same church?

Number of dates I’ve been on?

Amount I’ve contributed to a 401(k)?

Zero.  In that math, my life literally added up to zero.


The effort and the sacrifices didn’t add up to anything.  I felt like I had nothing to show for everything I’d done.

And it was true — if I looked at the math that way.

But there, sitting on the floor, I realized there were different variables for the equation that I needed to consider.

Because I turned my life upside down, I was able to raise thousands and thousands of dollars for the Invisible Girls’ trust fund.  Because I did without, I was able to get hundreds of kids sponsored with Compassion International.  Because I made travel a priority, I was able to minister to lots and lots of people across the country.  Because I left my job (and took an 85% pay cut), I was able to live in Togo for three months and serve people there.

And this, I think, is what it means to follow Jesus.  To realize that in this world, following Jesus means that the math will never add up.  It will never make sense.  It will never compete with what society says is important and noteworthy.

Was it worth it? I asked myself as I sat on the floor in my little apartment.  If you had it to do over again, knowing what it would cost you and the sacrifices you would have to make, would you do it anyway?

In my heart, there was a resounding YES.

I don’t regret a single sacrifice.

On the balance sheets, to my accountant’s eyes, last year was a big zero.

But, I hope, on the register that counts more, what I gave up to obey Jesus adds up to invaluable, immeasurable gains.

Following Jesus means the math of my life does not add up.

And yet, seen through other eyes, it does.  And it has been worth it all.



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  • Hi Sarah,I can easily identify with this post. 47 years ago I took a 60+% pay cut to go from a secure government job to manager of a Christian camp and retreat center, Camp Judson on Lake Erie. For the ten years that my wife and I were there we poured so much of our personal resources into the ministry, that when we left and I went back into the public sector we were so far in debt we thought we’d never get out. But God has his plans. We live close enough to the camp to continue to be involved. As our children grew up they became part of the camp ministry, first as campers, then as staff. Two of our children met their spouses through that ministry. Seven years ago our oldest son came back from a pastoral position on Cape Cod, to take over the camp manager’s job that I had for the first five years of his life. Our second son is the food service manager. Our daughter and her husband are actively involved as volunteers in programs and other ways. Our four grandchildren are now experiencing the love of Christ through the Camp Judson ministry. My wife and I have been and are being blessed beyond measure in ways we never anticipated when we went through those financial and other struggles years ago. Here is the link to the Camp Judson website. If you’re ever in need of a place to stay or spend some time while traveling through this region you’d be welcome. The camp is 20 miles west of Erie PA, about 65 miles east of Cleveland OH, and right on the Lake Erie shore with some of the most beautiful sunsets.

  • Sarah Thebarge

    Bob, thanks so much for sharing your story!!! And thanks for the invite…if I’m in the area I’ll definitely let you know.