I’ve always been unimpressed by money. I know I need it to survive, but I care little for most of the things people spend money on. The idea of accumulating it for its own sake has always left me cold. But I finally have a motivation for making money, so it suddenly matters to me. It’s an odd feeling to care.
A year ago at this time, I knew I was embarking on a year that would bring serious change, even though I didn’t know exactly what the change would be. I had an experience in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day last year that changed my perspective on where I was going with my life. It forced me to start moving away from politics. It also led to the creation of this site.
This week, something else has added a new layer to the changes I’ve been going through. Suddenly, I have an urgent need to pursue material success. It’s not for the luxuries of life that it can provide — because I still don’t care much for those — but it’s because of what it has the hope of leading to in another way. (No, I’m not going to be more specific about this one.) With this two-year oddity of post-Christmas timing, I’m now eager to see what God might have up His anthropomorphized sleeve for the same week next year.
Although I don’t want to talk about the specifics of what led to this, I do want to talk about the thoughts it’s sparked about money. We live in a society that worships money. On the surface, that’s a criticism, but I think it’s really a double-edged sword.
We complain about the over-commercialization of pretty much everything, and we talk of yearning for a simpler time when money didn’t matter so much. Despite that, it’s wealth that gives us the leisure to complain about commercialization of things. People living in poverty or living in a technologically backwards totalitarian state envy the choices we have. Those choices give us a quality of life they can only dream of. And despite the fact that it’s trendy (and sometimes justified) to complain about some people’s addiction to materialism, the opposite condition is just as bad.
People frequently say that money is the root of all evil. They think they’re quoting the Bible when they say it, but it’s really a corruption of something the apostle Paul said in a letter to Timothy. What he actually said — in the first sentence of 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) — is, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” In other words, money itself is neutral. It’s just a store of material value. But if you love money and crave the material things it can provide, it will frequently lead you down the wrong path.
So it seems to me that there’s a tension between two extremes. One extreme is represented by the materialist frenzy of modern shopping. The other extreme is represented by those who believe we should all live like self-denying monks. Just as with many things in life, the healthy attitude is somewhere in the middle — that of appreciating the comfortable lives that wealth makes possible, but not giving ourselves over to the lusts of consumption. Walking that line can be tricky.
All of this leads me to ask myself why I’ve cared so little about money. As I think about the need for a balance between the two extremes I just mentioned, I fear that maybe I’ve leaned too much in the anti-materialist direction. And I’m wondering why.
A possible answer presented itself to me earlier today. I suspect it might provide an insight into my thinking about money over the years. Could it be that I took the position of not caring about wealth simply because it relieved me of the emotional burden of worrying about failure? If you don’t care about something — and say you don’t want it — you don’t have to blame yourself or explain yourself when you don’t get that thing. I don’t like thinking that I might have lived this long handicapping myself simply to avoid the risk of failure. I fear it might be true, though.
Money is a tool. It represents how much value we’ve given to other people. If you don’t value what money can buy, it’s useless. If you value the wrong things that it can buy, it’s worse than useless. But if you have a vision of what money can ultimately do in a positive way — if you see something beautiful you can build with it — then money suddenly has a positive value in your life.
The early 20th century writer Napoleon Hill wrote of how useless money is to men without the proper motivation. In a chapter of his classic book, “Think and Grow Rich,” he wrote about how men are influenced by the women they love:
“The men who have accumulated great fortunes and achieved outstanding recognition in literature, art, industry, architecture, and the professions, were motivated by the influence of a woman. … Take women out of their lives, and great wealth would be useless to most men. It is this inherent desire of man to please woman, which gives woman the power to make or break a man.”
If Hill was right — and I suspect he was — my attitude toward money has been shortsighted and very limiting. I’ve been right in believing that many others put too high a value on it. There’s no question that you can set your life up in a way that your pursuit of money (and spending of money) take you away from the people you claim to love. But it’s also true that if you balance your life properly, the wealth you create can be a gift to your family or future family.
This is one time when I’m not sure I’m saying anything that’s applicable to a lot of people. Maybe I’m just working out my own feelings about a change I’m experiencing. I’m not sure. Either way, I can finally say that I’m ready to pursue wealth. Where will it lead? Ask me again a year from now.