The Isolation of Wealth

I heard the strangest comment I have ever heard today. It might not sound as strange to you, but I am still processing it, so I thought I might blog and share it with you. Matt and I were sitting with a friend who was telling me of another friend who has cancer. I hadn’t known about the cancer before today, and I was so shocked and saddened. “What can I do?” I asked. “If there is anything? Maybe I could organize meals for her family?” She has three kids, and I just kept thinking about them as their Mom undergoes surgery and intense chemotherapy and radiation. “No,” my friend replied. “If they need meals, they can hire a full-time chef.” Wow. I just sat there in shock, as that thought has never occurred to me in my life.

The thing was, my friend wasn’t being harsh or calloused, he was being realistic. My friend with cancer is incredibly wealthy and intensely private. She wouldn’t want the attention or the invasion of privacy. She probably will hire a chef, and that really is a great long term solution to her very critical situation. However, I have been thinking about that comment ever since. What I am particularly struck by is the idea of money meeting your needs instead of the body of Jesus. There is a self-sufficiency that comes with wealth that can enable you to do both amazing things, and isolate you from experiencing real relationship.

Wealth isn’t always coupled with isolation, and yet when you look at the lives of the wealthiest people in the world, they often seem like the loneliest. They comment on how it is difficult for them to know who their real friends are, and become extremely secretive and private people. I understand the dilemma, yet I often feel that it is a prison of their own making. Their fear of losing what they have makes them skeptical of everyone’s motives, and so they pull back from genuine relationship. It is a nasty trap.

I don’t have many good examples of wealthy people that have escaped this prison. However, those that have managed to find freedom in the midst of great wealth often do so through being fantastic givers. They give with their time, their energy, and their resources. As they freely give, they get over the worry that they will be taken advantage of, and just go for it anyway. There is something about giving that breaks the power of fear and hoarding. On both a large scale in great wealth, and on a small scale with what you have in your wallet today, hoarding is the enemy of your soul.

It is actually something that you also have to guard against when you are living on a budget and finances are tight. If you find yourself not having people for dinner because of your budget, or not wanting to give when you are prompted because money is tight, then these should be warning flags to you that you are holding onto money tighter than you are holding on to the hand of God. He won’t lead you where He won’t provide for you to be.

I was recently faced with this exact dilemma. A friend was coming into town and asked us to go to lunch. Our entertainment money was gone, my grocery money really low, and we were not using credit cards. Yet, I really felt in my heart that we were supposed to go. If we had chosen not to go it would have solely been because of the money. We would have sacrificed getting to build on a friendship for the sake of holding onto our money. This is such a red flag for me in my heart. If I am not doing something that I really feel God is in because of the expense, then I have to question where my trust is: in my budget, or in my God. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: a budget is a tool to help you manage the resources that God has given you and to help you be purposeful with those resources. It is not a law to your heart that governs your decisions. That role should only be filled by the Holy Spirit. Let your budget be a guide for your decisions, but don’t let it paralyze you and keep you from what God has for you.

I had another instance where the Lord prompted me to take a meal to a friend and we had very little grocery money left. I didn’t want to put it on the credit card. I could have taken money from savings, but I felt so hesitant to do that. I followed my heart and took the meal to the friend and decided to just trust the Lord to make up the difference in what I still needed for food for my family. I’m not kidding when I tell you that for the next three nights our dinner was taken care of. Friends invited us round to eat, my Mom brought us food one night… it was amazing to me. I have so many of these little illustrations of the faithfulness of God when you follow His Spirit and do what He prompts you to do… even if it contradicts your budget.

Of course, my experiences on hoarding mostly come from the perspective of not having enough, but oddly enough the lesson is just as valid when you have abundance. The best illustration I can recall of someone fabulously wealthy that never sacrificed relationship for money was Jesus. He chose to limit His fabulous wealth (His Father does own the cattle on a thousand hills after all… and everything else) in order that we might know Him and He might be known by us. Everything that He had He freely gave, and still He never lacked. Thousands clamored for His attention and He healed them and touched them. He walked among them and fed them. He was moved with compassion and lived out of that compassion, and the love that He inspired in His followers is still an inspiration to us. Many of them died for Him, and many die for Him still.

What would protect you from isolation should the Lord bless you with fabulous wealth? Living a genuine life led by the Holy Spirit and giving up your right to “have” what you are given. My Dad calls this “living open handed.” When you are given something, let’s say a coin, for example, if you close your hand around that coin in a fist and hold onto it, you will keep your coin, but it will also keep you from receiving any more coins or from ever seeing that coin realize its purpose. Living open-handed means that you acknowledge that the Lord has given you the coin. It’s His coin and it is free to pass through your hands. An amazing thing happens as you open your hands: you also let go of fear of losing the coin. It’s actually the best definition of stewardship to not hoard and hold onto, but to give, to sow, to invest, to use wisely.

Remember, the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and the talents? The rich man gave 5 talents to one steward, 2 talents to another, and only 1 talent to the last steward. The last steward was so afraid of losing the talent that he took it and buried it in a field to guarantee the coin’s safety. Yet the rich man did not commend that steward when he returned, but instead reprimanded him and took the one coin away and gave it to the steward who had invested the 5 and now had ten to give to his master. (Matthew 25:11-30) There are so many lessons from this story, but what strikes me about the story as it relates to my subject is the steward with 1 talent’s response when the rich man returned. He said, “I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground.” It is fear that causes us to hoard, and fear that keeps us from experiencing the abundance in relationship and provision that God has for us. Even in wealth, fear keeps us alone, it keeps us isolated, and keeps us from ever realizing the purpose for the wealth that God has put into our hands.

The really tragic thing to me from my conversation today is not only that my friend has cancer, but that she is walking through it alone. Fear has isolated her. I know she has family who are helping, but I believe that there is so much more that the Lord wants to bring into her life, but her hands are too tightly closed. It makes me think of a story that I watched on TV about a lottery winner who had stopped speaking to all of his friends and family because of his belief that they all wanted his money. He had lost everything of real value in order to hoard what was a gift in the first place.

As I watched the story and heard him make the statement, “If I gave to everyone who asked I would have nothing left,” I felt my heart saying, “So what?” You may not have a million dollars, but you would still have your family and your friends. You might have actually changed some lives. The truth is lottery winners rarely give all their money away. They spend it on houses and cars, and it’s gone in a blink. What if they had taken their checks and built an orphanage in Africa instead, or shelters for the homeless, or paid rent for the single mom down the street? Would they have really lost all their money, or would that money have been used for the purpose it was always intended for?

It is a solemn question and a challenge to us as well to not hold onto what isn’t ours. Live open handed with your life and with your finances. Use your money wisely and with purpose, but when the Holy Spirit prompts you, give, give, give. It will free your heart from fear as you see God’s faithfulness, and it will remind you what the purpose of wealth is all about.