Here are some thoughts I had while working on the booklet True Wealth for Troubled Times. Many of these ideas and quotations were incorporated into that compilation, but some were too personal to include. I hope you find them helpful:
Whether we are unemployed, under-employed, or just feeling poor, financial problems can make us feel unworthy, unsuccessful and unloved. In other words, a crisis in funds can bring about a crisis in faith as well. Where is God when we need Him, anyway?
So let’s start with the basics. Being poor or under financial stress is not a punishment from God. It is not a sign that you are any less worthy of His blessings and assistance than your neighbor. God loves you very much, and wants you to have the very best that life has to offer – both materially and spiritually.
Think about that for a moment.
What are the implications of that simple statement? God loves you. God wants you to have the very best that life has to offer – both materially and spiritually. God is also all-powerful. This means that God has the power to give you the very best. What God can’t do, because of our Free Will, is force us to receive the good things that He offers.
God sends us bounties and blessings every moment of every day. They are as plentiful as raindrops falling on the ground. But like the soil, our hearts must be prepared to receive these blessings, or they will wash away without sinking in. If we really want to change our financial and spiritual situation, we must educate ourselves to be able to recognize, receive and benefit from the gifts and bounties that God is already bestowing upon us.
This post is called a “spiritual guide…” Most people think of spirituality as a tool for helping people deal with the trials of being poor rather than as a tool for helping poor people become rich, yet as more and more people find themselves struggling with financial difficulties, the need to re-think our attitude towards wealth has never been greater.
We all know that financial problems can create stresses that can spill over into our relationships with our coworkers, our spouses and our families. But financial stress can also affect our relationship with God. There are all sorts of background questions about whether we are being punished, whether it is spiritually appropriate to even want material security, and how God might have even been involved in creating our current crisis in order to test us. (These are issues that I also discuss in my book Why Me? and will be addressed many times as this blog develops.)
Dealing with Financial Stress: A Spiritual Perspective
In 1990 I was forced into bankruptcy. When I spoke with my bankruptcy lawyer for the first time, she told me that financial problems were among the most difficult a person could go through. They tore apart families, devastated self-esteem, and reduced grown men to tears. “It’s OK to cry,” she said, “it’s OK.”
But it didn’t take a bankruptcy to tell me that not having enough money was difficult. I had pretty much defined myself by my poverty for my entire life. In spite of adequate looks, talent and intelligence, my financial situation had determined who I dated, where I went to school, how I dressed, where I socialized and what kind of jobs I felt I deserved. Going bankrupt was just the “hitting bottom” that I needed in order to force me to rethink my entire perspective on wealth. In other words, it was a gift from God. If you are interested, I would like to share that gift with you – not the bankruptcy, but the new perspective.
Before I went bankrupt, I was a member of the Bahá’í Faith who believed that it was more spiritual to be poor than to be rich. After the bankruptcy, I was still a member of the Bahá’í Faith, but now I was open to the possibility that God wanted me to acquire the wealth that was necessary for me to serve Him to my fullest potential. I read the same quotations, but I saw something different. That’s one of the great things about the Bahá’í Faith – it leaves room for lots of perspectives. What I am sharing with you in this post is just one of those perspectives. I hope you find it helpful.
While there are hundreds of quotations in the Bahá’í Writings about wealth and poverty, work and prosperity, this one offers several insights: “…man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom…. Baha’u’llah
This quotation says that wealth is needed, commendable and praiseworthy! That is a far cry from the two quotations I grew up with: “Money is root of all evil,” and, “For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:23) Was Bahá’u’lláh saying that the Bible was wrong? Never. The Bible is the word of God. What I discovered was that the real quotation (1Timothy 6:10) says that the love of money is the root of all evil. In other words, loving money, possessions, power or things more than God or each other is evil. Money is a tool, created by God to serve God’s Will. It is wrong to love the tool more than the service it provides.
I also learned that a “needle’s eye” was the name for the special gate that ancient fortified cities left unlocked at night after the large main gates were closed. It was small and easy to guard, but the only way a camel could pass through was by having all of its baggage removed, and crawling on its knees. In other words, like a camel, a rich man must be willing to let go of his possessions and humble himself to enter the Kingdom of God. Difficult? Yes. Rare? Yes. Impossible? No. In fact, Bahá’u’lláh, like Christ, says that it is difficult to balance both wealth and spirituality, but also says that the few who succeed are very special.
“O YE THAT PRIDE YOURSELVES ON MORTAL RICHES! Know ye in truth that wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved. The rich, but for a few, shall in no wise attain the court of His presence nor enter the city of content and resignation. Well is it then with him, who, being rich, is not hindered by his riches from the eternal kingdom, nor deprived by them of imperishable dominion. By the Most Great Name! The splendor of such a wealthy man shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!” Baha’u’llah
A Spiritual Guidance for Generating Wealth
Begin with an unshakable faith that all bounties come from God, Who is Infinite, All-Powerful, Most Generous and All-Wise. Wealth, which is just one of God’s many bounties, is also infinite when it is generated in the service of the Will of God.
God from everlasting was Love, Justice, Power, Creator, Provider, the Omniscient, the Bountiful.
As the divine entity is eternal, the divine attributes are coexistent, coeternal. The divine bestowals are, therefore, without beginning, without end. God is infinite; the works of God are infinite; the bestowals of God are infinite. `Abdu’l-Baha
Understand that wealth is a tool. Don’t love it, fear it, resist it or worry about it. Use it to serve God’s will and God will provide you with more.
O SON OF MAN! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.
O SON OF BEING! If poverty overtake thee, be not sad; for in time the Lord of wealth shall visit thee. Fear not abasement, for glory shall one day rest on thee. Baha’u’llah
Understand that wealth is not just money. Wealth is all of the infinite resources that God has placed under our influence – knowledge, power, friends, health, talents, virtues, and, yes, money.
Then it is clear that the honor and exaltation of man must be something more than material riches. Material comforts are only a branch, but the root of the exaltation of man is the good attributes and virtues which are the adornments of his reality. These are the divine appearances, the heavenly bounties, the sublime emotions, the love and knowledge of God; universal wisdom, intellectual perception, scientific discoveries, justice, equity, truthfulness, benevolence, natural courage and innate fortitude; the respect for rights and the keeping of agreements and covenants; rectitude in all circumstances; serving the truth under all conditions; the sacrifice of one’s life for the good of all people; kindness and esteem for all nations; obedience to the teachings of God; service in the Divine Kingdom; the guidance of the people, and the education of the nations and races. This is the prosperity of the human world! This is the exaltation of man in the world! This is eternal life and heavenly honor!
These virtues do not appear from the reality of man except through the power of God and the divine teachings, for they need supernatural power for their manifestation. `Abdu’l-Baha
Understand that wealth is not a limited resource to be sliced up or fought over (like an apple pie). Wealth grows and is self-generating when it is nurtured and trained (like an apple tree).
As a tool, God wants us to have as much wealth as we are mature enough to use wisely – but you don’t give a power saw to a toddler or a million dollars to a teen. Wealth without wisdom is dangerous.
Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement, for such a benefactor would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of a great multitude. Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy. If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor. If, on the other hand, it is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor – in brief, if it is dedicated to the welfare of society – its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth and will be accounted as one of the people of paradise. `Abdu’l-Baha
Service is both the goal of wealth and one of the generators of wealth.
The wise wish to serve, and through this service their wisdom deepens.
Don’t look to the lottery, but rather find the field of service that inspires your heart and let it enrich you.
O MY SERVANTS! Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits, that ye yourselves and others may profit therefrom. Thus it is incumbent on every one to engage in crafts and professions, for therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of understanding! For results depend upon means, and the grace of God shall be all-sufficient unto you. Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire.
Wealth without detachment is a chain that drags our thoughts away from God and towards our material lives. It is a curse instead of a gift. Wealth with detachment makes us illumined servants of God that can accomplish great and wonderful things.
Blessed is the rich man whom earthly possessions have been powerless to hinder from turning unto God, the Lord of all names. Verily he is accounted among the most distinguished of men before God, the Gracious, the All-Knowing. Baha’u’llah
We prepare ourselves for wealth by nurturing the virtues that make it safe and useful – detachment, faith, wisdom, maturity, generosity, gratitude, trustworthiness, and the love of God, family and friends.
Verily it [trustworthiness] is the door of security for all that dwell on earth and a token of glory on the part of the All-Merciful. He who partaketh thereof hath indeed partaken of the treasures of wealth and prosperity. Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light. Baha’u’llah
O MY SERVANT! The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds. Baha’u’llah
Sometimes we are prepared for wealth, service and compassion by being shown what poverty feels like.
Be generous in your days of plenty, and be patient in the hour of loss. Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe. Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low. Baha’u’llah
O CHILDREN OF DUST! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth.
Responsible generosity is a sign of detachment. Regular tithing (giving a percentage of our material wealth to God) is a sign of faith, gratitude and love. These two behaviors demonstrate our ability to handle wealth and draw down special bounties and blessings from God. The less wealth you have, the more important it is that you practice them conscientiously.
We must be like the fountain or spring that is continually emptying itself of all that it has and is continually being refilled from an invisible source. To be continually giving out for the good of our fellows undeterred by fear of poverty and reliant on the unfailing bounty of the Source of all wealth and all good – this is the secret of right living. Shoghi Effendi
I have mentioned several times now that wealth is praiseworthy when it is used in alignment with the Will of God. How does one balance the gift of Free Will with the obligation to follow the Will of God? I have never believed that God wants us to blindly surrender our will to the “cosmic flow.” On the other hand, willful efforts to plan and control our own destiny are doomed to failure. Perhaps the serenity prayer expresses this dilemma most succinctly: how can we have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage (and will) to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference? Even this dichotomous approach may be too simple. We need both serenity and courage for every situation – constantly exerting effort to align our will and the world around us to more closely match the Will of God. It is like white water rafting. We can neither fight the current, nor surrender to the current, but must, on a second-by-second basis, adjust our efforts to augment and align our movement to the onrushing current of destiny.
This dilemma is not just an abstract, theoretical one. The balance between free will and surrender is at the heart of all issues surrounding power, control, authority, obedience, and sacrifice. Our relationship to our parents, to God, and to all forms of authority circle around this balance. Interestingly, our relationships with money and wealth are also caught up in this dilemma.
From the perspective of control, money and wealth are tools for exerting one’s will over other people and the world as a whole. People who go out and “do battle” in the business world are trying to wrest control of their fate from the hand of God. They believe that if they just have enough money, they will have the power, the prestige and the respect they need to control their lives, to feel secure, and to be important.
From the perspective of surrender, money or wealth are symbols of God’s love and good pleasure, or, conversely, His wrath and justice. Our attitude towards authority of all kinds will be reflected in our feelings about where our money comes from, how much wealth we deserve, and how hard we have to fight to receive it.