Money is the root of so much awesomeness. –Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass at Making Money
When I was in Europe this past summer, finding churches to pray in, places to write blog posts, I recognized heaven exists not in some far-off land, but right here, on earth. It is inside us, if we have the bravery and persistence to tap in. In every direction is beauty and depth—it often doesn’t matter which way you turn. (Which is great for me, because I constantly get lost.) What I mean by this is, when I needed a place to eat, I found one. When I needed a place to rest, I found one. When I needed a restroom, one would appear. (And cafe owners would let me use it without buying anything, if I was nice enough.)
But the big thing I think we all struggle with is the concept of heaven—this haven of riches—and actual money, which we feel often limits us in our experience of happiness, of the divine on earth. Money is not the same as wealth, or richness. Wealth, in a spiritual sense, is about having resources, and resources are not limited to paper or coins. Resources exist in our experiences, the people we know, in our talents, in love and attitude and devotion. And sometimes they exist in paper money. Money seems to be what makes many of us stumble the most. No matter how many talents we have, or ideas, or love, or grand plans, we still have to pay our bills, get out of debt, build or grow what it is around us that we want to build and grow.
Money is a concept that for many months, I’ve been trying to get my head around. I suspect I will never understand fully. Why do some people have so much, and others have so little? Why do some people own multimillion dollar houses they barely live in, and others struggle to eat or find shelter?
I do not know the answer. I’ve been turning it to God. If I had a lot of money, I would do wondrous things with it, I tell Her. I’d live simply, and most of it would be spent on sharing, celebrating art, donating to charities, feeding people who need to be fed. My greatest expense would be travel, because I think seeing and meeting people in other places gets you out of your own head, helps you to recognize that we’re all part of a human family, not separate at all. (Jesus wandered a lot from town to town, always meeting new people. I wonder how many times he had to change those beaten-up sandals.)
I am rich, but I do not have a lot of money. I am often just trying to find some steadiness, some consistency, with my in-flow so I can plan for THE DAY I DO GREAT THINGS. And yet no single day is guaranteed. So what the HimHer God teaches me is that if I want do do good, if I want to serve, if I want to help, start with what’s right in front of me. Start with a person who asks. Because I can’t save the whole world. But I can engage in an opportunity that’s offered.
While I was in Florence months ago, I was praying about these questions. I do not come from a family who travels, and so the fact that I was in a country I always wanted to visit made me feel wealthy beyond measure. Yet on many streets, there were homeless people asking for money. I didn’t now what to do about that. The solution I came to, when I realized I had food in my purse that I could easily give away, was that instead of reaching for euros every time I came across a person, I’d respond to their request by giving food.
It wasn’t long after I came to that solution that someone was put in my path. On my last day, shortly before I was meant to leave the city, a man came up to me on the sidewalk and asked me for euros. I told him I didn’t have any, even though I did. I had 100 euros in my purse, in fact, because I had just gotten some out of the machine in case I needed cash. Next he asked for bread instead, and I agreed. He pointed behind me, to a store that had bread. So I followed him, all the while wondering what I was getting myself into. What was I doing? Was this safe?
As we walked, he asked me where I was from. And he told me he was from Nigeria, that he had been in Florence for a while, but was hoping to get back to Rome. Rome had better jobs, easier ways to make money. He led me to a line in McDonald’s, and we stood and talked as we waited for his food. “It’s really hard,” he said, shaking his head, referring to living on the streets.
“Is there a shelter you can stay in?” I asked.
He shook his head. “They cost money.”
“Do you have any family around?” I asked.
“No, they’re all back home. It’s just me here.” Then he began talking again about how he wanted to go to Rome, but he needed a bus ticket, and so until he was able to get one, he was stuck.
Was I supposed to give this guy money for a bus ticket? I started asking the Mother. I had made a decision to only give food. What now?
“Do you pray?” I asked. I didn’t know what else to say.
“Oh yes, I pray,” he said. And then he started talking about his faith. “The Lord knows my heart.” There was no rambling, no empty words. “God has a plan for all of us,” he said, and pointed to the Above. “And He has taught me strength, he’s building my character….” I could tell that his faith went deep.
And it was then I knew I was supposed to give him money for the bus fare. Because he needed it, and I had it to give. My heart started to pound. It was no time to be stingy. I had an apartment back home I lived in myself. I had a return plane ticket. I had a master’s degree. I had furniture and too many clothes and I was not worried at all about eating. I had people who could support me if things got really awful, people who would bail me out. All this guy needed, all he was asking for, was 55 dollars.
I reached into my purse and handed him all the cash I had, because there were tears in my eyes, and it didn’t make sense to count it up. His face opened, his mouth fell. And then he hugged me. “Thank you,” he said. “You will be blessed.” And then he hugged me again.
I turned to leave, wanting to find some quiet place to cry.
A better person would have thought nothing of handing this money over. A better person would have said, No sweat. Have a good day.
But I had been worried about money for months, for years. I agonized about getting a better job, or moving out of my apartment eventually into a house with a yard for my kids, even a dog. I worried each time I bought myself something that didn’t seem absolutely necessary, that the Grand Hand of God was going to point his finger and say, “You! Bad!” For a long time, I didn’t know if I could manage to live on my own anymore, or what kind of job I’d have to take despite degrees and years of work experience.
What my Beloved on High had given me, in response, was an offering. You are worried about money, He said. You want to know how to handle it. You want to be taught. Here you go. Will you listen?
I am not saying you have to stand on a street corner handing out cash to passersby. (That would be cute, though.) I’m just saying every day, there are people in your path who may be in need. They may be in need in a variety of ways, needing some sort of resource. Maybe it’s a hug. (I often need one of those.) Maybe it’s advice. Maybe it’s a kind word. Maybe it’s cash.
You have to take care of yourself. Of course you do. There is no expectation that you must give all you have away. But if you have done some good internal work, if you have come to a place of gratitude and acceptance of your life situation (which we should all be working toward anyway), then the next step is obvious. Your Hero begins to offer you opportunities not to compare, to judge, to pick apart, but instead to give and to serve.
The Giant HeShe says, in the gentlest of ways, Let’s look at what you have, my darling. Who is in need around you? How can you help?
You know what bothers me most about that interaction with the faithful man?
I never asked him his name.