Is Money the Culprit?

Money is complicated. I think most of us have had issues with money at some point in our lives and may have issues now; how to make money, what to do about credit, how to manage money, how to release it, how to be lovingly detached from it, how to keep it from ruling us, how to appreciate it, how to be generous with it. Money can liberate us, free us from anxiety or it can cause anxiety, no matter how much we have. No matter what our relationship is with money, it is a teacher because it taps into our basic security and trust issues.

Money is complicated in scripture too. In Acts the new believers share what they have generously with each other. The Good Samaritan is held up as an example of neighborliness. Jesus shares all of his resources with those he encounters, lives on little and gets refilled by being alone with God. But in scripture people also steal money or withhold it from the community. The rich man who comes to Jesus just cannot part with his wealth when Jesus invites him to give it away. Judas betrays for money. Jesus says that we can gain the whole world and still lose our souls. In the book of Timothy, Paul says that leaders who lust for money bring nothing but trouble, lose their footing and the faith, and live to regret it later.

So is money the culprit? I don’t think so. Money just is. Our relationship with money, God and ourselves determines how money affects us. I’ve found that when I am vulnerable in my life, like during a major transition or in a time of crisis, money takes on more significance, because I am dealing with basic issues of safety and security, the bottom rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Several years ago I was faced with one of those turning point times in life. I was single, no longer able to travel and do public speaking for a living because of the stress to my system, and wondering about my future. Where would I live, how would I earn a living, who was I called to be. I shared my journey with my spiritual director, therapist, friends and financial counselor. I cited my level of anxiety about money as a score of 93 out of 100. It was an almost constant source of fear and insecurity. It took me several years to learn (and I am still learning) that money is none of the things I had mistaken it for. It is not love or health or security or peace or wisdom or inner power or faith or generosity. I do think money helps to supply my basic safety, security and sustenance needs, so I am not naïve about money, but money itself is not powerful. It is what we do or buy with money that give us power in our culture.

I’ve learned my most important lessons about money from three different sources. The first source of insight about money and resources is marginalized people; refugees, homeless people and prison inmates. In the midst of dire straits, many of them exude a surprising perspective of gratitude, generosity, sufficiency and trust. When I have been able to put my fear aside in favor of those qualities, I find a new spirit within me.

The second source of wisdom for me is my financial counselor who had helped me to be a wise steward of whatever resources I have, and has worked with me  for years to be mindful of how I think about money. During my time of unease and anxiety about money he asked me to choose my top values in life and then suggested that we make decisions about my finances based on my values. He asked for my permission to remind me of those values if I was going off in a direction of fear or uncertainty. My core values are spirituality, integrity, friendship, creativity, diversity and generosity. These values guide my decision making like a north star.

The third and most important source of wisdom about money is God. God is the one who has made money a spiritual issue for me. God teaches me not to panic but to wait, listen and trust. God has helped me to follow my heart in my work instead of only going towards the most money. In fact, in a financial fox-hole time of my life twenty-five years ago, I made a request of God. I promised to do whatever God called me to do each day and in response I asked God to provide for me financially.  God’s response: “My dear, I already have.” God’s part of that request has always been secure. It’s my part that wavers at times. But when I keep coming back to God’s promise, and when I can bring my fears and anxieties to God, I can see the path and the grace much more clearly. I don’t always get more money but I learn to live more simply, to let go of what I thought I needed to be happy, and receive from God’s largess at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. I have learned that gratitude sparks generosity. Sometimes when I get an unexpected check in the mail, God asks me to give half of it away. I do.

God also uses my finances to teach me about anger, fear, jealously and greed in my life. I’ve gone into business for the sake of money and security, used money to buy love through expensive gifts, and used money to fuel status and greed. Not pretty. I’ve seen people move to a different state thousands of miles away for the tax breaks, even though they are not happy there. I’ve seen people control children by taking them out of their wills or by giving them too much. I’ve seen expensive travel take up so much time that friendships were lost. Most all of our wounds show themselves through our use of and relationship with money.

This is what I’ve found out about money. My life is richer with less. Money is not love. Gratitude counts. Generosity frees me. Receiving is as important as giving. Self-sufficiency is not powerful. I can’t out-give God. And God, not money, is my source of love, trust, gratitude, security and contentment.

My anxiety level, which was at 93, is now below 5 even though my finances may be less secure. But what has changed is my trust. Thanks be to God.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

What does money mean for you?

Which scripture stories about money most resonate for you?

How have you changed your relationship with money?

Who in your life sees money differently than you do and challenges you?

How is money a spiritual thing in your life and where is God in your finances?

How have you misused money?

What healing do you desire around the issue of money?