Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.
Amish Proverb

For the last five years, Gil Hostetler has worked for a construction company that builds houses. He has plans, though, to buy a farm soon. “Me and my wife, we’ve been saving every penny so that I can get home and stay there.” Gil and Salome have three children. “This job—it pays real well. But money isn’t everything. It just isn’t so good to have Dad gone all day long.”

The houses that Gil’s employer builds are custom built, many with a million-dollar-plus price tag. Gil shakes his head at such lavishness. “I see these folks wanting these big grand houses, strapping themselves to pay the mortgage. Both the mom and the dad have to work to make those big payments, and then the house is empty all day. Little kids get stuck in day care, or older kids come in to cold, empty houses. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. These kids come home from school, nobody’s home. They end up watching the TV, and they have nothing to do. That’s when kids get into trouble.” He shrugs, a little embarrassed to reveal such a strong opinion, as if he knows it isn’t politically correct. “That’s my thinking, anyway.”

Farming has always been the occupation of choice for the Amish. As far back as the 1600s in Europe, they were known for taking unwanted parcels and converting them into fertile land. They feel a tie to the land that reminds one of Old Testament times. And like the Hebrews, the Amish rarely sell their land. They hold onto it and pass it on to future generations—a legacy.

But in the 1970s, as tourism started to explode near Amish settlements in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the cost of land began to escalate, the Amish felt the squeeze. Many left to begin new settlements—Colorado, Maine, Montana. Others turned, out of necessity, to find sources of income that took them off the farm—factories or construction jobs. It’s been an ongoing, complicated issue for the Amish. They struggle with the balance of supporting their families, yet without losing so much of what they value in life—raising their children with both parents at home, preferably on a farm.

By contrast, Gil thinks the non-Amish have a focus on accumulating wealth and assets. “Folks just keep wanting more and more. Bigger houses. Newer cars. Bigger televisions. They get all stressed out with these big debts, and they forget what’s most important. They could live with a whole lot less stress if they could just cut back and live a little simpler. I think everybody would be better off if they learned to be happy living with less. Live in a smaller house. Drive a car until it’s broke down for good. I know the kids would sure be better off if Mom and Dad were home, paying attention to them.”

Too much money.

“Folks start losing their way when they got too much money,” Gil said. “Amish or English, we just don’t need to make money the be-all and end-all. There’s a whole lot more things in life than having a ton of cash. Like, being around for your kids.”

Road Map: Getting There from Here

One of the keys to contentment in the Amish life is that they filter decisions through predetermined priorities: faith, family, and community. When faced with a big decision, they weigh its impact on family life. How will it affect their relationship with God? With others? Having such a plumb line for decision making helps to keep money—and other things, such as time commitments—in a proper perspective. Money is only a tool, not a goal.

Here’s an interesting fact: the word priority didn’t originally have a plural. That was because you could only have one priority. Consider your family’s top priority. Does your use of time reflect that priority? Does your checkbook or latest credit card statement? Taking a hard look at where you spend your money reveals what you value. What has to go? What has to be added? This exercise—albeit a little painful—is a tangible way to determine if your life actually reflects what you believe to be your top priority.

In their own words . . .

We have the saying, “make do or do without.” Two of my little nieces learned to make do with what they had available when they couldn’t find the glue stick. They used Chapstick instead! The little cards they made for daughter Karen had the pictures securely fastened, so it works!

—Scribe from Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Adlai M. called me an old man when I turned seventy. Now he is also seventy, and I heard he said he isn’t all there anymore after cutting off his first finger on his left hand, and also cutting into his thumb last Saturday on his table saw. He had it fixed at a Paducah hospital. They offered him a $10,000 helicopter ride to a city to sew the finger back on with no assurance that it would be successful. He probably didn’t think a finger was worth that much as he didn’t go for it.

—Scribe from Jamestown, Kentucky

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. We sure have a lot to be thankful for. Many friends, food in the cellar, a warm house, and the Lord in control. What more do we need?

—Scribe from Mt. Hope, Ohio

*Excerpted from Amish Values for Your Family

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