Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Price is Faith

I have never understood money. I know it serves it’s purpose and I like it enough when I want a pair of shoes, but when it comes to understanding how much I have, how much I need and what the best thing is to do with it is, I am hopelessly confused. I was the kid in college who, when my parents called and asked if my checkbook was balanced, I’d say, “uh… I put my card in the ATM and money’s coming out, so… I guess…?” My first “job” out of college was a volunteer gig that paid $12 a week so the next two years didn’t afford much opportunity to practice (This weeks budget: a coke, two beers and a burrito. Done). Ever since then I’ve been in denial about money, spending less or more depending on how much I guessed I had. This sometimes works, but I’m finally admitting that this is not a very mature approach to life. I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that just because I don’t understand money, find it incredibly boring and don’t see why I need to waste my time with it, it’s still very much a reality.

My roommate came home with a logical next step. Her church, Lowcountry Community, was beginning the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University. The website advertised skills in budgeting, investing and getting rid of debt. I could make a list of things I would rather be doing than thinking about these topics. It would begin with “getting a tooth filled” and end with “spend an afternoon at the DMV”, but that responsible voice in my head that gets ignored all to frequently won this argument, so Monday night found me sitting in a class while Dave Ramsey lectured me from a screen about investments and saving for retirement.

Hold up. Retirement? Good grief. I’m still paying off my college loans. I almost got up and left. I had begrudgingly signed up for this to learn to manage my money for now, not think forty years into the future. I can hardly get my act together enough to grocery shop for three days in advance. This was just too much.

However, when I finally stopped procrastinating and found myself sitting in my room with my bank statements, receipts and bills spread out around me on the floor, I had a reality check. It didn’t matter how I “felt” about money. It didn’t matter if I found it boring, if I’d rather be doing anything but think about it, if I’d rather plan my fall wardrobe than retirement. It was still there. (Or, as I’m realizing, not there.) And if I failed to learn how to manage it well, I would find myself at the age of retirement with a lot of problems that I could have avoided.

I’m sure most people are reading this thinking, “way to grow up, Al. Silly girl, it’s about time you started thinking about the reality of the future. You can’t just expect these things to work themselves out!”. I was foolish for many years and I’m finally being responsible. However, I would like to point out that my former approach to money is how many people approach their faith. They say that it’s boring, they don’t understand it, there’s a million things they’d rather be doing, that life is too busy to fit in things like praying and going to church. But the reality is, God is there whether we “understand” Him or not. If I don’t plan for the future, and even for retirement, I can’t expect it all to just work out.

We were all created with an eternal, immortal soul which will spend forever somewhere. Death, judgment, heaven and hell are a reality. Looking at savings spreadsheets, I’ve realized that I need to be investing in my future now because you can’t make it all up later. Similarly, you can’t expect Faith to appear by magic at the hour of your death. St. Augustine, a bishop who lived in the 400’s explained, “In order to see eventually, for the time being believe. Faith does the earning; sight is the reward. If you want to see before you believe, you’re demanding to be paid before the job.” That initial act of Faith, of believing in God and making Him a priority is an investment far more important than any account or 401k. St. Augustine explains, “What you want to see has it’s price. You want to see God; the price of such a tremendous good as that is faith.”

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