I love money!
As I’ve attempted to wrap my head around my complicated relationship with money, I came across this affirmation. Jen Sincero suggests it in her book, You’re a Badass at Making Money, followed by “because . . .” to get past our limiting beliefs around money. When I try saying it, though, I am compelled to explain my “love” with a caveat that I’m not attached to it or that I only love it insofar as it is meeting my needs without wanting more. In other words, I want the world, i.e., me, to know that I’m not greedy.
Sincero points out that money does not equal greed. Money is simply a neutral tool to facilitate exchange of things we need – much less complicated than bartering, and in our society, is almost impossible to live without. Greed is an unquenchable desire for more of whatever – whether money or ceramic pigs. It is, I tend to think, born of a fear that there isn’t enough so we need to take what we can while we can or of a need to fill some hole that can’t be filled by money or anything else, but we think it can.
In theory, I agree that money and greed are not synonymous. Saying so, however, feels a little like when people say guns don’t kill people, people do – a statement that belies the massive killing power of an automatic rifle over, say, a knife. Whether or not these two concepts of greed and guns have anything to do with each other, I’m uncomfortable when I try to separate a love of money from greed.
My difficulty in admitting that I love money brought to mind a comment someone who loves me and my family said once while I was cooking, “your family sure loves butter.” I have no idea how the person who said it intended me to understand the comment. What I heard, however, was a criticism that my family members were fat, unhealthy eaters, who gluttonously consumed harmful foods like butter. How dare she accuse me of eating unhealthily.
In my thoughts, I distanced myself from all that I thought she was trying to convey: I eat healthy, mostly vegetables, I usually use olive oil, I’m fit, have low cholesterol, and on and on. Then I grumbled to a friend about how this person had passive aggressively insulted my family because I, who eats so healthy, cooked once with butter in front of her.
My friend’s response – “Yumm! Butter! I love butter. It’s soooo good.” This friend, for all that it matters, is also fit and eats healthy.
After I recovered from her lack of sympathy, I laughed. She was right. I do love butter. It’s delicious. Knowing that I think so, why couldn’t I just own it at the time and respond to the comment exactly as my friend did? There’s nothing wrong with loving butter.
My love of butter does not mean that I eat it all the time nor do I want to. When my friend enthusiastically stated it, she didn’t qualify her love. I know she eats it in a healthy way. Once she said it, I, too, could say it without guilt because I know that I also eat butter in a healthy way. I no longer worried that anyone would be confused by what I meant.
I’m not there with money, however. Yet, as with butter, I really do love it (at least in the colloquial sense, and not to be confused with how I feel about people, my dog, or God). I miss my law firm paycheck, giving lots and lots of money to charities, taking friends and family out for meals and activities and buying them gifts that will bring joy, being able to replace my fifteen year old stove/range without thinking about whether I can afford it right now, and buying plane tickets that don’t leave at 4 am. I loved having plenty of money and the level of security I felt having it. I’d like to have plenty of money again and, if I’m honest, I believe that I will.
Yet, as soon as I say “I love money,” I feel compelled to explain to myself how my love is healthy. My desire for money doesn’t mean that I love the inequality that exists within our distribution system. Nor does it mean that I want endless amounts of it. I’m not willing to gain money through anything I consider unjust, nor, for that matter am I generally able to earn money over the long haul doing anything that doesn’t bring me joy or feel meaningful. I recognize that I’m in somewhat of a privileged position on this last point since many people just need to make money to put food on the table.
A huge source of my discomfort stems from what I’ve understood both Jesus and the Buddha to say about money – I need to give it all away and be poor like Mother Teresa. I don’t mean to say my understanding is what either meant by their teachings, but it’s how I heard them and I’ve battled this belief much of my life because, as I’ve already admitted, I love having money. I have never desired to be a desert monk, living with nothing, or even, for that matter, as a more run-of-the-mill monastic or nun (never mind that I’m not Catholic). I like my creature comforts, even if I’m not looking to live in a mansion and own a Lamborghini.
So, as I do, I went back to the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha to understand them with adult, rather than a child’s eyes. Yes, Jesus does tell people on multiple occasions that if they want to follow him that they need to give up all of their possessions. Yes, the Buddha counsels against being attached to money. Both pieces of advice are challenging statements that need to be taken seriously – if we can’t let go of that which holds us back from following the voice of the Creator/God/the universe/the mystery within us, which could be an attachment to wealth, then we will never truly achieve being the people we were created to be or find enlightenment.
Jesus also tells stories about how to use wealth to “make friends” (and judging by the story, he means friends that are poor and oppressed) so that they will “welcome you into their eternal homes” and that a failure to do so will lead to hell. When he fed 5000 from just a few fishes and loaves of bread, he demonstrated that God provides enough for all us to have our fill and we don’t need to hoard. Jesus articulates the difficulty for a rich person to get to heaven. He shows us the danger that with wealth it is easy to fall into the illusion that one doesn’t need God or that one is better than or more deserving of it than others. His stories around money and wealth are rich in complexity and filled with lessons about inequality, justice, and how we judge others. Without delving into all of them, these stories suggest that Jesus is not per se saying money or financial wealth is a bad thing. Rather, it depends on our relationship with it, how we gain it, and how we use it. And as importantly, that we are putting our faith in God for our security, not money.
Similarly, the Buddha’s teachings suggest that neither having too much nor too little is optimal for achieving enlightenment. Both can cause constant craving and fear of not having enough. Instead, he seems to advocate for a middle way in which needs are sufficiently met before we can pursue our spiritual well-being. Wealth can and should be used not only to provide for ourselves and our families, but also for charitable means. Using wealth can be a means to develop and exercise compassion and lovingkindness. Yet we also do not want to be attached to our money and possessions in a way that causes our or others’ suffering, such as by pursuing financial gain through unjust means or by fearfully hoarding our wealth.
I’ve come to realize through these stories that we are called in different ways with money. Mother Teresa was able to forgo any certainty around it and to live a very simple life that few of us, including myself, would desire. Yet, without people having money to give her, she wouldn’t have been able to help all the people she did. I dream of a world in which we all have enough and charity is no longer necessary. That is not the world we live in, however, and until that happens, I contend that Jesus and the Buddha are teaching us how to have a healthy relationship with money. I’m finding St. Ignatias’s teachings on spiritual discernment especially helpful as I navigate my own path. I’m learning to trust when my desires, including around wealth, come from God and when my fears and false beliefs are leading me away.
My feelings around money are still a work in progress. While I’m getting more comfortable with admitting that I love money, I’m also getting more comfortable with trusting in its flow and that God/the universe/the creator/the mystery really does want the best for me and all of us and is leading me in my desires. But I also think it’s probably good for me to always be questioning my relationship with money. What’s important is to do my best to follow the voice leading me, to examine whether my motives around money are out of love and serving, not just myself, but others. Are my fears and attachments around money and possessions helping me on my path or hindering me. It’s not so different from the ongoing evolution of my relationship with butter, which seems to find me desiring less and less of it, but still enjoying it thoroughly when I go there and never judging myself for it.
 Luke 16:1-13.
 Luke 16:19-31.
 Matthew 14:13-21.
 Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25.
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I (Kurt Vonnegut) were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island. I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!
Perfectly said. Thanks.