How far down the “What if?” hole have you gone in recent weeks?
From the news cycle, to email lists, to social media, to neighbors and friends, the most pressing topic is the coronavirus and how it is impacting our lives. My wife helps run a community health center which provides critical medical, behavioral health, and dental support to under-resourced communities, so the virus weighs heavily in our household. And as the collective anxiety has jumped back and forth between a concern for our health to a fear for our finances, people have started to wonder, “what if?” What if I lose my job? What if I can’t afford the rent? What if I am unable to pay my bills?
There have been moments when even I have felt overwhelmed. I just want to bury my head in the sand. Money is such a private, personal topic that few of us really know how to talk about it. But that’s been the Faith and Money Network’s mission for nearly 40 years now: Making money not such a taboo topic.
I’ll tell you a story I heard recently about two big grocery stores here in my neighborhood. A friend of mine went to the big Giant. All the shelves were empty. The toilet paper, the black beans and the rice–gone. People were pushing carts full of stuff through the aisles. She decided to check out a Latin American grocery store just around the corner from the Giant. There, the shelves were full. People were taking only what they needed.
It’s a reminder to me of how we are supposed to live together. It’s why we need a community where we can talk openly, without judgment, about how we relate to money, abundance and scarcity. It’s why we need places in our lives, our homes and our churches where we can ask the questions about spending that rise to the surface in a crisis.
Who can you talk to about your money worries?
One of the reasons people reach out to me is because they don’t have a community of people to talk with. So one of the first things I try to do at Faith and Money Network is help them find people with whom they can share openly about their relationship with money. It’s what our online Faith and Money Network groups are for.
It’s sometimes helpful to just put the numbers down on paper because often what we have swirling around in our head is not as bad as what it really is. Sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s not.
Either way, it’s important to be in touch with what you’re feeling right now; the grief, the anxiety, and the fear. Talk about these feelings with the people in your household such as your partner, your housemates, and even kids who are old enough. It’s valuable to get those feelings out front. It helps us think more clearly about our next steps.
Fear or faith?
And so when it comes to financial-decision making, I might ask, “Are you making this decision based on fear or faith?”
The truth is, it’s usually a little of both. Our faith should be our starting point and our ending point. When we store up more than we need, it rots according to scripture. In the Bible, it was bread that rotted when hoarded and piled high. Likewise, our society can rot when there’s too much money for just a very few people and the rest don’t have enough to get by.
If we have more than we need right now, then we need to find ways to share it. There’s a lot of churches and Christian universities with large endowments and families who have more than they need.
Find ways that your surplus capital can be of use. Look out for your neighbors. Get to know them. Be in relationship with them. Be willing to risk your own comfort to help others. Maybe for you, it’s your son or daughter’s college roommate who can’t afford to pay their rent without the hourly job they just lost.
Educate yourself about what other people are doing to foster a more neighborly economy rather than a consumer economy.
“Fear is real, but love is stronger.”
And give yourself some grace. It’s important to remember that in moments of crisis, we may not always make the right decisions. This is uncharted territory. It doesn’t pay to beat ourselves up. There’s no magic bullet point. We just need to be honest, patient and real.
I recently read a piece by retired American Episcopal bishop Rev. Steven Charleston, and in it he wrote: “Fear is real, but love is stronger.”
As people of faith, I think that is important for us to remember. We acknowledge our fear.
We don’t run from it. But we know as people of faith, that love is stronger.
Mike Little | April 21, 2020
Mike Little is executive director of the Faith and Money Network.