In most circumstances, we consider a 95 percent success rate good, or even outstanding. But when it comes to the condition of your heart, 95 percent success means five percent failure. And like a cancer, that failure can spread and grow if you don’t confront it quickly.
If you’re wondering what all of this has to do with money, here’s the connection: I feel that most of the time I do a good job of being content with the things God has given me. I have been blessed, and my heart is set on blessing others. But from time to time, I get distracted by what I don’t have. I see other people having things that I want, and it makes me angry. I can go 350 days a year with a great attitude about money. But the struggles that I have on the other 15 reveal the weaknesses in my heart.
Money can make slaves of us in all sorts of ways. It’s not just greed or debt that trap us in financial slavery: Anytime money warps our thoughts, attitudes or relationships, it is taking control of us (even if that control seems subtle and excusable). And this means that, even though I may have a good attitude 95 percent of the time, resigning myself to a poor attitude during the other five percent is opening the door to financial slavery in my life.
Everyone’s financial challenges come in different ways. For me, the struggles come in the form of the Comparison Game — I have a tendency to use money as a scorekeeper in life. If I’m doing well financially, I’m beating all of those schmucks who have less than I do. And all of the people who are doing better than me got there because they cheated, got lucky, or otherwise fell into wealth… or so I tell myself. These ideas are hogwash, of course, but they still crop up sometimes from deep corners of my heart. If I let them go unchecked, they’ll eventually warp my entire identity.
The problem is the worst when I notice other people’s money making me mad. Here are some typical examples of the sorts of relationships and encounters that stick in my craw:
- I have an acquaintance who is aloof, socially awkward and somewhat dimwitted. He also tends towards greed and arrogance to boot. But somehow, despite all of these serious faults, he has a knack for making big money. Against all odds, he is succeeding in his field. If current trends continue, he will end up far wealthier than me. And it burns me up.
- I have other acquaintances who enjoy lives of wealth because they were born into or married into wealthy families. One or two of them probably married wealthy on purpose. I have a hard time being happy for these folks; in the darkest places of my heart, I actually tend to resent them. Because it seems unfair at best and downright slimy at worst.
- I know a lot of folks who are pursuing high-paying fields like medicine and law, not because they love those professions, but because they want to be wealthy. I, on the other hand, rejected surer paths to prosperity in order to spend my days doing things that I enjoy. I tend to look down on others who don’t do the same.
These are just a few of examples of situations that cause me to struggle with financial slavery. It doesn’t come up that often — as I said, maybe 15 times a year. But on the times that it does come up, it has a tendency to ruin my day.
When someone else’s wealth can ruin my day, I’ve become a slave to money… even if it only happens five percent of the time. And slavery of any type isn’t something that I should put up with.
In my more lucid moments, when my heart is more focused on God’s truth than it is my own discontentment, I realize the incredible irony of this whole situation. Every time I’m offended by someone else’s wealth, I look for a reason to blame them for the problem. They are unfairly profiting in spite of their stupidity. They are gold-diggers or trust fund kids who fell backward into wealth. They sold out their dreams to pursue a country-club lifestyle.
But of course, the real problem here is not them. It’s me.
If I’m going to be successful in overcoming my five percent failure rate, I’m going to have to acknowledge that the problem with my attitude about money is me. There will always be people more wealthy than I, but I shouldn’t let them tell me who I am or what I’m worth. Nobody wins the comparison game. Every time I let someone else’s wealth affect my attitude, I succumb a little bit more to slavery.
This post is something of a confession, but it’s also a declaration. I’m not perfect in my financial attitudes. I still struggle to get it right sometimes. But I will not give in to my weaker moments. The struggle must continue. Because as long as a small part of me is a slave, the rest of me will never truly be free.
Photo by Victor Casale. Used under Creative Commons License.