Years ago, I slid from cushy well-off to nail-biting broke all at once. I went to God with my fists shaking, with my mouth lamenting all I’d lost and could no longer do since going broke.
I made it through those dark days, but recently, the Holy Spirit reminded me again about how I give money too much credit.
I mean, we all know the fine things money does do (pays bills, puts food on tables and clothes on backs, reduces marital stress, buys that sweet mint green Ukulele I’ve got my eye on).
But my list—one born out of brokenness and lamentation—is a list of what money does not, cannot, will never be able to do.
This list has recalibrated me, reminded me that I am who I am, for richer for poorer, that my life is good, full, rich, whether I have money or not.
My list has gotten long. Some entries are obvious: Money can’t buy me love (thanks, Beatles!) or happiness. Some entries are spiteful: Money won’t make you sexy, funny, kind or at all pleasant to be around. But the ones I share here are my favorites, the ones I return to again and again.
1. Money Does Not Bring Peace.
Of course, this runs quite contrary to what is often pitched as “peace of mind.” There is a very common idea in this country that the more money you have, the more peace you have. Of course, this leads to the opposite also being true: the less money you have, the less peace you have.
Whenever your peace is built on something that will not last, it’s not really peace at all. Trying to hold onto money leads to paranoia. Where there is paranoia, where there’s desperation for control, there is not peace. Money cannot bring it.
2. Money Does Not Give You Control.
Sure, money can scare some people into silence and control some situations in the short term. But over anything that matters? Every last outcome? Not so much. So while money can buy elections and influence, and slipping that c-note in a maître d’s palm may get you the best table in the house, money doesn’t make us invincible. It doesn’t slow down days or turn back time. It can’t bring back loved ones or bring love at all.
3. Money Does Not Make You Wise.
Often, we believe money gives special insight into the way the world works. Money can pay for educations and books and experiences that enhance knowledge. And sure, plenty of wise people have made (or inherited) lots of money. But a quick scan of any celebrity gossip site will show you lots of folks with lots of money acting lots of stupid.
I only have to look in the mirror for this one. Some of our financial desperation resulted from unwise decisions made while flush with cash, while thinking the gravy train would never end.
Money doesn’t make us wise. But it sure can make us foolish.
4. Money Does Not Make You Admirable.
We think we admire wealthy people, but really we just admire the dollars—or supposed dollars—or the cars, homes, jewelry or clothes their dollars buy.
Sometimes, of course, we admire people who’ve made money in admirable ways or who give fistfuls of it away. But that’s an admiration of work ethic or innovativeness or generosity—things money can’t buy, things available free of charge to every last one of us.
5. Money Does Not Make You Interesting.
Money can take you interesting places and buy interesting things. But you can’t buy your way to becoming an interesting person—someone with something to say, who feels strongly, thinks deeply, listens thoughtfully, lives fully. An interesting person learns, listens, dares, dreams, discusses, engages, feels, looks for wonder in the world.
Once again, all of those things come free.
6. Money Does Not Make You Better.
“Bettering” ourselves implies making more money to get out of some place or situation. We can get “better” jobs, acquire better things, live in better towns, go to better schools.
But of course, money doesn’t better anyone. Nor make you better than anyone. Whatever “plagues” us when we don’t have money will plague us when we do. (Well, unless the plague is not being able to pay bills—it does help with that.) Ultimately, whatever makes us special or gifted and unique was there all along.
7. Money Does Not Make You Blessed.
Well, we’re all blessed, just not usually in the ways we think. Certainly not in the ways we see “#blessed” trotted out on social media next to pictures of new cars and trips to luxurious destinations and new summer homes.
Though the Old Testament does equate wealth with blessing sometimes, Jesus flips this around. It isn’t the wealthy who are blessed, but the poor in spirit. It isn’t the mighty and powerful, but the meek. We are blessed not when we’re enjoying the best things in life, but when we’re enduring and experiencing Christ’s presence with us.
According to Google, the word bless come from the Old English blēdsian, which is thought to mean “to mark or consecrate with blood.” Now, some may argue their #blessed summer home or new car or Caribbean vacation resulted from blood, sweat and tears, and that may be.
But real blessings are consecrated—set apart—by our own transformation through suffering or trial or some kind of brokeness that has ushered us right into the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom that is free and open to all of us whether we’ve got lots of money (though, it’s a tighter squeeze to get in) or we have none. This is the Kingdom that’s around us all now and for eternity if we choose to accept the blessing of grace. Free of charge.
Caryn Rivadeneira is a writer, speaker and author of Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About GodÕs Abundance (IVP, 2014). Caryn lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three kids and rescued pit bull. For more on Caryn, visit carynrivadeneira.com.