Redefining Our Money Relationship: A Faith-Built Perspective

by Sabra Engelbrecht
The old adage that “money can’t buy happiness” is a familiar one. I would venture to guess that most of us hear these words and think, “yeah, right.” The phrase causes us to bristle in part because it just doesn’t ring true. But perhaps also because no topic heightens our defenses more than that of money. We are flooded with messages that money is something we earn, something we own, something we are entitled to. This sense of ownership makes the topic of money feel deeply personal. Layer on top of this the common refrain of many pastors that “money is the root of all evil” and it is easy to see how our relationship to money becomes complicated, confused, and even unhealthy. Money isn’t inherently bad, but it takes intentionality to have a healthy relationship to money. Part of this intentionality requires a shift in perspective by acknowledging the risks of viewing money as purely our own versus the rewards of understanding money as a gift.

The risks of of believing money is something we own, control, and earn

1. We get stuck in a vicious cycle 

Call it what you want, the rat race, a hamster wheel, or keeping up with the Joneses. Maybe it starts when we earn our first steady paycheck, or we receive a bonus for a job well done, or a surprise windfall comes our way. Typically our first thought is, “how can I use this money to reward myself?” We buy that new gadget, or a nicer car, or a bigger house. It feels fun and exciting at first, but the initial satisfaction quickly subsides, leaving us craving another new thing. And so often the item we bought ends up causing us a headache, becoming one more thing we need to take care of. What’s more, our new acquisitions often require additional purchases – the iPad really needs an Apple pencil, the bigger house needs furniture – the list goes on. Suddenly, our life is spent in a vicious cycle of earning, spending, and then maintaining the things we own. We are stuck, tied to our accumulating possessions and often our accumulating debt. It is hard to find our way out so we dig in. We convince ourselves that having more is good, even if it is wearing us out and draining our bank account.

2. We lose our sense of value

When we believe that money is something we earn, or better said, something we are entitled to, we allow money to influence how we value others as well as ourselves. We get caught up in a never-ending game of comparison. We may not like to admit it, but our ego is constantly seeking validation, so we tell ourselves the lie that the more we make, the more valuable or important we are. This has the ugly consequence of causing us to devalue others. The pandemic forced us to face this square on, as suddenly those at the bottom rung of the income ladder became essential to our daily lives. At the same time, others with higher paying jobs were deemed as “non-essential,” their jobs eliminated without warning. God created each of us for unique and particular purposes, not to earn a particular amount of money. When we attach our self-worth to money we are in danger of pursuing the wrong things and losing sight of God’s vision for our lives.

3. We miss the point

It can be very difficult to let go of money when we see it as something we earned or are entitled to. We become attached to our money and possessions. If we earned it, it’s ours after all. And it offends our sensibilities to give away what is ours. However, when we fail to share, we lose our sense of being connected to others. Our self-preservation actually leads to isolation. Again, we saw this first-hand during the pandemic. Those who hunkered down, hoarded for themselves, and focused only on their own security and safety became more isolated, anxious, and fearful. But those who responded to the pandemic with a spirit of generosity experienced joy and a deep sense of connection, even during the most difficult times.

The reason generosity was a fundamental principle of Jesus’ ministry, and a marker of the early church in Acts, wasn’t primarily one of equity. Instead, Jesus was trying to get us to understand that we are all interconnected. We are a part of a bigger whole. The danger in viewing money as our own is that we quickly forget our interconnectedness and interdependence. We find ourselves alone and without a sense of belonging and purpose. We feel lost and life feels meaningless. This is not the life that God, the Creator of all things, designed for you.

The rewards of understanding money as a gift

1. We experience freedom

For many, money is seen as a means to achieve freedom in our lives. It is true, the more we earn, the more we are able to buy, consume, and experience. But this “cycle of more” is binding, not freeing. If, however, we view money as a gift, we are able to experience a healthy separation between ourselves and our money. The Christian word for this is indifference. Indifference doesn’t mean that we don’t care. It doesn’t give us permission to be irresponsible or ungrateful. Instead, it allows us to hold everything loosely. We can experience a healthy detachment from money and its accompanying pressures to earn more, spend more, accumulate more, want more. Soon, we find we are no longer trapped. We escape the cycle of “never enough” and find ourselves in a new cycle of trusting, receiving, giving thanks, and being intentional. Instead of feeling stuck, we have a sense of endless possibilities. 

This, my friends, is true freedom.

2. We find our place

For those of us who are able to change our perspective about money, an amazing transformation takes place. Our mindset changes from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Living from a place of abundance, we find ourselves experiencing the allusive “enough” we have been longing for. Suddenly we know the truth – that we have enough and that we are enough. And do you know what happens when we live from a place of enough? Our hearts open and we start to see the needs of others. Instead of feeling isolated and insecure, we feel connected and empowered. We are reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We come to understand God’s vision for our life – to be an active participant in fulfilling a larger vision for a world that lives in perfect harmony.

3. We find our true self

One of the ways we get to participate in God’s larger vision is through giving. When we understand that all we have is freely given to us, our natural response becomes gratitude, and even a healthy sense of responsibility. We begin to look for ways to pay it forward. We discover within ourselves a spirit of generosity that guides and shapes our lives. This spirit of generosity is core to who we are. We are literally hardwired to give. Neuroscientists have shown that giving actually elicits a pleasure response in the brain. What’s more, unlike any other activity or event we may experience, the act of giving is shown to bring sustained joy and happiness. 

Science confirms that God created us to be generous people. Through the act of giving, we experience integration, meaning our exterior life reflects the truth of our interior life. Generosity allows us to discover lasting joy and experience deep contentment. So, it’s true. Money can buy happiness. It’s all a matter of perspective.
1Elizabeth Svboda, “Hard-Wired for Giving”, The Wall Street Journal, 31 Aug., 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/hardwired-for-giving-1377902081. Accessed 28 Sept., 2022.
2Author Unkown, “The Joy of Giving Lasts Longer Than the Joy of Getting”, Association for Psychological Science, 20 Dec. 2018, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/the-joy-of-giving.html. Accessed 28 Sept., 2022
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