You may have heard recently the story of Ryan Broyles, the young wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. USA Today, ESPN, Forbes and several other sites have recently run stories about how despite signing a contract for 3.7 million dollars after being drafted by the Lions in 2012, Broyles and his wife budget carefully and live on about $60,000 a year. He still drives the Chevy Trailblazer he drove in college. Recently Broyles and his wife recently bought a new home, but it was a very modest home compared to what he might have afforded given his football salary.
So, it’s a nice story. We admire him for the wisdom he has shown in understanding that football careers are brief. In a world where studies have shown that many NFL players are bankrupt within just a few short years of their retirement, Broyles’ foresight and planning stand out.
More than a nice story about frugality
If this were all there were to the story, we would certainly respect him for the example that he has set. But there is more to the story than just a level-headed young athlete making some wise decisions.
Ryan Broyles grew up in the church with Christian parents. But like many young people he strayed a bit as he went to college. As a freshman at the University of Oklahoma he was expected to be an immediate contributor but those hopes were soon dashed when he was suspended indefinitely after being caught attempting to steal gasoline from a local gas station.
Broyles bounced back from his mistake and went on to have a successful career at Oklahoma. He was in the midst of a record-setting year as a junior at OU when quarterback, Landry Jones, suggested he join their Bible study. Broyles began studying scripture and got back to church, yet he still felt something was missing. He had a lot of head knowledge about Christ but he really didn’t feel like that he had the relationship with Christ that he desired.
The trip that changed Broyles’ life
That all changed that next spring. Several members of the team traveled to Haiti to volunteer at the Mission of Hope. What Broyles experienced there changed his life forever. He saw people there living in a level of poverty that was unlike anything he had ever seen. These people had nothing. Nothing that is except their faith. And what he found were some of the most joyous people he had ever met.
Broyles said he came back jealous of those who lived in such joy despite the poverty that surrounded them. He knew he would never see life the same way again. He had found a purpose and meaning worshiping with those poverty-stricken Haitians that would change his faith, his approach to football, his relationships and his life.
The source of joy
I think there is much we can learn from Broyles far beyond just looking at the example of a wealthy young athlete living a modest life.
We spend much of our focus and energy earning our living. We read various financial sites. We struggle to live on less than we make. We sacrifice to pay off debt. We scrimp and save to build emergency savings and retirement accounts.
But what is the purpose in all this? Is it simply to build wealth so we can live on easy street?
While I do not believe there is anything wrong with the desire to build wealth, we must always understand the purpose of that wealth.
The answer to true happiness in this life is found in the God we serve and the lives we touch, not in the size of our bank account, the car we drive, or the square feet of the house we live in.
Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” Luke 12:15 CEB
I believe this is the heart of the lesson that Broyles learned when he was worshiping beside those joyful Haitians, and that truth changed his approach to life.
In addition to living on less than he makes, Broyles has formed a charitable foundation to help those in need in the Detroit area and has partnered with VISA and the NFL to create a football-related financial game that can be used in school classrooms to teach basic financial concepts in a fun and innovative way. He is using that wealth to make a difference in people’s lives.
The real purpose of wealth
In the end I do not believe wealth is either good or evil. Wealth provides the opportunity for us to be more of what we already are.
In God’s eyes I don’t believe Broyles is more holy because he has chosen to live on $60,000 a year instead of $100,000 or $500,000. Nor would he be more holy if he had chosen to live on $30,000 instead of $60,000.
What wealth does provide is the opportunity for us to be a blessing to those we come in contact with.
We can spend our lives getting out of debt and building wealth, but if the only focus is on ourselves then we have missed the point. Our lives become like a stagnant pond where water flows in but never flows out. In time ponds like this grow only scum. They stink. When our wealth focus is only on ourselves, our lives will be a little scummy.
We need to see our wealth as a conduit where money comes and money goes. We enjoy some of it, but we are focused on how we can serve those around us. We are like the refreshing stream where water flows and brings life to all who come near. This is the path that leads to real joy.