Thursday, December 9, 2010

THE NEST EGG: IS MONEY ALIVE? IS MONEY HUMAN?

BUILDING A NEST EGG
PHOTO: KARL HILZINGER
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." 
--anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing

altsiders.wordpress.com

10 comments:

  1. Thank you, Heather. I SOO needed to read this today. We lost our previous house to foreclosure 12 years ago and have been saving and saving and saving like crazy to try and buy another one. We signed the documents yesterday and moved that entire nest egg -- 12 years of sacrifice -- into the closing and the fear immediately arises. Will I be laid off tomorrow? How will I pay the kids' tuition now that that egg is gone? I hope we've been good stewards of the money and that we've made a good investment, but I thought that last time and was wrong. Trust, trust, trust. That's what it's coming down to. I trust that I/we will be okay, come way may. (At least, I'm trying to.) "Freedom from fear is more important than freedom from want." Thank you for reminding me.

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  2. A lot to take in after reading this post. How can I apply these insights to my own life? What am I afraid to hand over? What mat am I lying in that I need to arise from and take away. I don't know that I've looked there as closely as I ought. Maybe I've taken it for granted that I know what my fears are, when in reality they are something else.

    Since you put it out there, I wonder: maybe most of your fear really is that your financial needs might prevent you from writing as much as you would like or need? A fear that, if you can't write you will go crazy, and start drinking again.

    So then, it comes down to - trusting God that he will let you write as much as you need to... and that he will take care of your sanity even if you can't write...

    You know, people in the internet world are advocating for your writing. I don't know if you've seen it, but people are talking about your books and recommending them.

    In fact, I mentioned your blog to a friend a few weeks back, and he thanked me DEEPLY for it. He said he is buying "Parched" for his wife for Christmas (so he and she both can read it!)

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  3. Oh Bernadette, I'm so with you...this is wonderful you've taken a "healthy risk," as I heard somewhere yesterday. I always feel like as long as I have a library card and a radio, I'll be okay--though I realized your kids in college may feel somewhat differently. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well...
    And hey Robert, as always thanks. My fear isn't so much that I'll start drinking--if for no other reason than that I have done and continue to do such massive amounts of work to stay physically and emotionally sober...it's more a terrible existential fear of abandonment, of falling through the cracks--a fear that's not grounded in reality, which is why no amount of money, book sales, or any other outside thing will "cure" it--though the Lord knows that stuff is certainly cheering and much appreciated. It's an "inside job," as they say...anyway, that's grand your friend bought Parched for his wife. Merry Christmas to them, and you...

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  4. I sympathise with the fear of spending-the-nest-egg. I spent 15 years building mine, out of a craving for security and a fear of having to depend on others. Eventually I realised I couldn't bring myself to spend any of it because that would somehow invalidate the decade-and-a-half I'd slogged in horrible jobs to earn it. Eventually I went cold turkey, started choosing jobs I knew would implode in the credit crunch and moved somewhere I wouldn't be able to find the same work... It worked! Somehow I detached myself from it and could finally look at myself honestly and choose what I really wanted to do with my life - rather than pick evil jobs for their earning potential.

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  5. I, too, was raised by parents, especially my mother, who had the Depression mentality. It does take its toll.

    As I reminisce about the six decades of my life, I realize that God's providence has always been there to take care of my needs. Recognizing that has taken time, though. What God provides frequently comes as little surprises along the way.

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  6. Aaaah, I love your blog so much. How did we ever have the internet without it??

    Thanks for another fantastic post. So much great food for thought here.

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  7. I try to trust that everything will work out alright, even as our family grows, and that my only job is to be a good steward of God's blessings. But I get angry with myself for how much time I spend thinking and worrying about money. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.

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  8. Thanks, everybody--You know, I am feeling some ease around this--it's simply a law of the universe that hoarding doesn't work. And it's interesting, Tess: this is money I saved when I was working as a lawyer, which I absolutely loathed. And it may be that not only haven't I wanted to let go of the money, I haven't wanted to let go of that whole chapter of my life, and all the work/suffering of law school and the subsequent years of trying to make a go in a career I simply wasn't cut out for. So my thinking is shifting a bit from I have this money but I'm not "allowed" to spend it to, wow, how lovely, I have this money and I get to spend it or use it however I want...as someone else said: Look at His track record so far...it's true: I have always been taken care of, even as a blackout drunk! So with my faculties somewhat intact, I probably stand a darn good chance of being taken care of now...

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  9. I read somewhere recently that the opposite of faith isn't doubt, but fear. I believe it.

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  10. Heather you have very marketable skills.
    You maybe an ex-lawyer-but you are still
    qualified(even if you would have to take tests
    and licenses over again.) Yes, you were quite
    clear how much you LOATHED being an attorney...:)

    I know about financial insecurity and I am working. It eats at me almost 24/7.
    And unfortunately, the media helps play into this fear.

    Please keep writing HEATHER-
    You do all 12 Steps with your writing and that's quite an accomplishment.

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