Lately I’ve been going about saying “I have no money!” “I’m worried about money!” “Pretty soon I am going to run out of money!” The truth is I have some money. In fact, counting my two small IRAs that I set up when I quit my job as a lawyer in 1994, and barring some unforeseen emergency, I probably have enough to live on in my bare-bones way for a couple of years. But I am seeing the incredible place this nest egg has occupied in my psyche and my almost fight-or-flight response to the specter of “losing” i.e. spending, any of it. Terrible terrible financial fear. Bag lady, dying alone, not being able to take care of myself, etc.
Part of this comes, perhaps, from having grown up in a Depression-era-mentality home.
Part of my fear is that if I have to get a regular job and can’t write I will literally lose my mind. Which I am actually pretty sure is true.
Part of it is the objectively, ever-precarious position of the free-lance, or perhaps I should say independent, writer. Although I had a conversation the other night with a friend who, with this same mentality, for years carried around a 50-pound bag of soybeans. And as another friend who was there observed: “If things get that bad, those soybeans aren’t even going to last very long.”
Anyway, everyone has been very nice and assured me that my reaction is not neurotic and that having to dip into money we’d earmarked (but for what?) really is scary. But I think for me it is showcasing my almost complete lack of faith, at least in this area. My insane idea that I have no marketable skills. My ongoing obsession with the fact that I don’t have a safety net. The fact is nobody has a safety net–not that kind.
The weird thing is it’s not as if I fear losing some lavish lifestyle. I’ve never owned real estate of any kind, a new car, or even a washer and dryer. At various times in my life, I’ve hitch-hiked across country, lived in a Skid Row welfare hotel, slept in the snow, lived on crackers, cheese, and dried fruit. I’ve gone without health insurance for years. I’ve out-Thoreaued Thoreau, out-voluntary povertied the Catholic Worker (as if that’s an accomplishment), amply proved to myself that I can live a rich, full, absorbing life without a lot of money. It’s almost as if, just as with drinking, I fear losing my identity as the person who has this stupid nest egg.
“We fear the unknown. Especially we fear becoming someone we do not as yet know. To liberate the desire for this becoming is to come into the perfect love that casts out fear. I have discerned in myself—and have found others in agreement—the curious fact that I dread not needing the things I now think I can’t live without, more than I dread actually losing those things.”
–Sebastian Moore, Jesus the Liberator of Desire
What is this perverse human fear of becoming fully free? Who would I be if I let go here and trusted God completely? What if for once in my life I could spend and receive freely? Here’s an idea to move toward:
“To me, money is alive. It is almost human. If you treat it with real sympathy and kindness and consideration, it will be a good servant and work hard for you, and stay with you and take care of you. If you treat it arrogantly and contemptuously, as if it were not human, as if it were only a slave and could work without limit, it will turn on you with a great revenge and leave you to look after yourself alone.”
–Katharine Butler Hathaway
Like any “idol,” the nest egg, the obsession, becomes in some sense our God.That is the real problem, not the money, or the love, or whatever we happen to be fixated upon. And by having an idol, we are assuring we that will NEVER get “enough” money or whatever else we want because no amount would be enough. I have gotten off so many mats in my life and walked, and now I need to get up off another mat. And that means I need to pray to be ready to get off the mat. That’s what Jesus asks the paralytic at the pool at Bethesda: “Would you like to be made well?” [John 5: 1-18] That is: Are you ready?
What’s frustrating is that over the years I’ve done a ton of work in this area and at various times have shown signs of real wholeness and health. But that was then. This is now. No shame in not being healed; only shame in staying wilfully, insistently stuck.
And thus;the work continues.
“Travail steadily in this nought and in this nowhere.”