We All Have Problems with Money: Epistle 11.10.11

We All Have Problems with Money: Epistle 11.10.11

We all have problems with money. That’s just a bit of an exaggeration. Of course, our difficulties with money are various and relative.

For many, money — or the lack thereof — is an unsolvable problem. Almost half of the world’s population, 3 billion people, live on less that $2.50 a day. That means people around the world wake to no possibility of getting their daily needs to survive. Tens of thousands have died of their poverty by the end of each day.

One of the purposes of the proposed Mission Trip to Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in our hemisphere, is to expose us to the reality and causes of this sort of poverty. With world economies threatening to crumble and the rising unemployment and underemployment financial downturns cause, the number of people in poverty is bound to grow.

But money can also be a problem for those who have enough… even for those of us who, in global context, are rich (though perhaps not so in U.S. comparisons). Maybe it’s our acquisitive society, but money is laden with emotion meanings greater than its purchasing power. My friend Joe, an investment counselor, says his job is more about dealing with how his clients feel about money (and why… sort of finance-focused therapy), than about determining investment strategies appropriate to their financial goals.

My own ‘money history’ has left me with complicated and contradictory feelings, and some neurotic reactions.

My grandmother Caine was widowed early, and left fairly well off. She spent the last 20 years of her life living extremely frugally, denying herself and preaching the same (my first intro. to Ben Franklin!), so that she could leave her money to her grandchildren.

My father, her only child, inherited a great sum when she passed away. At the height of his active alcoholism, he ran through it in bad business deals in a few years.

My mother, not having worked since she’d married, was left with three kids and no reliable child support from my father after they divorced. She had her own trouble overspending. I’m not sure how she managed. I was 12 then, old enough to recognize the difficulty and the strain on her, but not yet old enough to help.

My life has turned out richer than I ever expected. But when it comes to money, there’s a lot of ambivalence. I still feel as if money is some kind of curse, or at least a cross to bear. I used to insist I’d never hurt for money when I grew up, but as a pastor, I’ve never have had a lot. At some points, raising the kids, money was awfully tight.

I can be simultaneously ‘irrationally overly-careful’ and ‘feeling totally hopeless’ about money. There was a spell when I found it too anxiety-provoking to check my balance at an ATM machine! And even now, whenever I receive some unexpected mail or call, I assume I’ve done something wrong; the financial sky has fallen, and now I’m in line to suffer some painful consequence. I can’t remember the last time I REALLY messed up my money, but experience hasn’t pulled the plug on my neurosis. My money default position is fear, guilt and powerlessness.

I asked others this week about troubles they have with money:

~ “Sometimes, I really won’t let myself buy something I really need, even food.”
~ “I’m not proud, but I use money to judge others — as if how much or how little a person has really says something about who they are.”
~ “There’s that sinking feeling when I realize I’ve gotten out of control again and spent too much.”
~ “‘Green envy’ when I see others have more, can do more, spend more than me.”
~ “It’s embarrassing, but I try to buy myself out of trouble, particularly with people I’ve hurt or wronged.”
~ “I can’t sleep at night when I start worrying I’m not going to have enough money to take care of myself.”
~ “I figure if I flaunt it, I can impress and influence others.”
~ “I feel I’m a failure because I don’t earn and save more.”

Money is complicated! I wish I could offer you some foolproof solution; I’ve worked on my issues, and they still plague me!

But I do have a suggestion: I’ve found that sharing my “money craziness” with God helps. That keeps it from isolating me or leaving me feeling so alone.

Making a significant commitment to charity has helped too. I can’t make contributions outside of my money-neuroses. But, if I make a prayerful decision, fulfilling my commitment (though just a portion of my total financial life), gives me peace, a sense that God’s helping me with my money issues, some comfort.

Jesus did say, after all: “Giving — not getting — is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.”

See you in church,


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