Money, money, money.
We need it to survive. Everyone always wants more of it. As many lives are destroyed by it as those that are saved. It is the root of all kinds of evil and yet, can do enormous amounts of good too. We try to control it and yet, all too often it ends up controlling us no matter how little or much we have. We love it and we hate it.
So what does a healthy relationship with money look like? Cutting up credit cards, budgeting and getting rid of debt are great places to start. But I think those only get rid of the symptoms. They don’t cure the heart.
My parents are a great example of this. They are absolutely exemplary with their finances. My mother is an accountant, how could she not be? They’ve always bought used cars paid in cash, paid off their mortgage in less than half the time, and even stopped using ATMs because they weren’t able to track their spending as well. They gave faithfully to our church and lived well within their means. Because of this I have always been very conscious of the value and power of money.
My favorite story is that of my freshman year of college. My parents managed to pay my full year of college tuition and my sister’s full year of private high school education without having to use their savings. How crazy is that? To say my mother was frugal would be an understatement.
Despite their best efforts though, they’ve still lost money on bad investments, had to sell a house and buy a condo in the economic downturn and I’m sure other things I have been sheltered from knowing. My mother, in particular, can be incredibly hard on herself for these things, because you see, even though she followed all the rules money still controlled her. She was enslaved to it despite her best efforts to master it. Her heart hadn’t changed and she definitely wasn’t free.
But recently I’ve noticed in her comments a change of tone. She’s learning to see how her treatment of money was only a symptom of her need to control. She’s learning to let go.
I use her as an example because she is the exact opposite of most Americans financially. Her contrast shows the root of the issue instead of just the symptoms. Yes, our society is based on consumerism and many Americans live with out-of-control debt. Yes, people often don’t know how to handle their money and live within their means. But I think even those who do control it and handle it well need to acknowledge the obsession we make of it here in America. We can teach how to budget and pay off debt, but we don’t know how to teach contentment despite all of our abundance. And we definitely don’t know how to live free of money’s control.
We are in bondage to our cash. I’ve seen this most clearly when I’ve travelled to places like China and Uganda. They live with so much less and yet are so much more content. Our love of money breeds discontent, strife, competition, and greed. Until we address the complex relationships we have with our money whether we have a lot or a little, we will never be free. We must realize whether we ignore our finances irresponsibly or control them down to the last penny, that cash is but a means to an end. It cannot cure-all our ills, save us from death, or make us happy. It can only pay the bills. But pay the bills we must.
So the next time you’re bemoaning your budget, contemplating a spending spree, planning your retirement fund or struggling to pay off a loan, ask yourself what am I trying to accomplish in this? What’s my motivation? Address the fears or discontent. Acknowledge the unknowns. Put money in its place! Let go of the obsession and break those bonds of slavery. Let’s be free.