Why can’t I have financial success?

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Dear Father: My husband and I have been married for 14 years and have three children together. We both work (him full time and me part time), but for as long as I can remember we have struggled financially. We never seem to really get “caught up” on our bills, and every bit of extra income we make is eaten up by a new expense almost immediately. I am envious of friends we have who seem to be so financially comfortable and secure. We drive old cars that break down, and we never go on vacations. I am exhausted by worrying about money all the time and arguing with my husband about the bills. I read in the Bible where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor” (Matthew 5:3), but I don’t feel blessed; I just feel angry and frustrated. What is so great about being poor? Am I really wrong for wanting an easier life?

— Allison in Fort Wayne

Dear Allison: I sympathize with you; your situation is painful, discouraging, and a daily burden. It’s not, however, without a solution. By adopting the spiritual dimension of this experience, you can change your whole outlook on life and find peace and security in the midst of your difficulties. Please allow me to share with you some thoughts on this point.

I believe that finding ways of earning more money would be only a partial answer to your problem. Nevertheless, you might inquire if there’s someone in your parish who could assist you in making a budget that fits your needs.

You ask, “What is so great about being poor?” The answer is that God has a special love for the poor. That’s why Jesus often reaches out to them. He also speaks a great deal about a special kind of poverty. He shows us the first way to happiness: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus’ words and actions encourage us to examine seriously why he reaches out to the poor.

God has a special love for the poor. That’s why Jesus often reaches out to them.

The poor are not more virtuous for being poor. Poverty as such is not a goal in life. In fact, throughout the Bible, God asks his people to take care of the poor. Their poverty, however, can take on many disguises. It might be lack of money, or it might be an illness, loneliness, age, failure, ignorance, or sin. Poverty affects everyone in some form or other. 

What does Jesus mean when he says “poor in spirit?” In answering, we must not confuse our cultural values with the values of God’s kingdom. 

St. Paul writes:

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2) 

Those who are poor in spirit recognize and accept that they depend on God for everything: life, health, safety, success, avoiding sin, and doing good deeds. Linked to this, they believe in God’s faithfulness to his promise to be with us. He will not allow them to be tempted beyond their strength. In other words, he will be with them in the midst of their challenges and difficulties. They realize that poverty of spirit consists more in an attachment to God than in a detachment from worldly possessions. 

God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to teach us that his wisdom differs from ours. His understanding of poverty clearly illustrates this point. God began this journey for us by placing a desire for happiness in everyone’s heart. Then he tells us where to find it: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” But foolishly we search for it in possessions, in power, in pleasure, or in prestige. 

None of these, however, can truly satisfy us because they cannot provide us with the security we seek. We will die, and so we cannot possess them truly. To the farmer who wishes to build new barns, Jesus says, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you” (Luke 12:20). So was God being cruel in placing in our hearts this desire for happiness?

But foolishly we search for [happiness] in possessions, in power, in pleasure, or in prestige.

Absolutely not! We’ll find true happiness only in surrendering our will to God’s. Each day God’s infinite love demands more and more from us, but it also extravagantly grants us the graces and wisdom we need to respond positively to his invitation. Only God can satisfy our needs and desires. He does so by giving us not just something … but himself. He shares with us his life and happiness. Everything else falls short and can never provide us with peace and security. We discover that only God can make us fully happy. Rich and poor alike, therefore, must become poor in spirit in order to be joyful and united with God. 

I believe your question implies that God is asking you for a change of heart. If that is so, you must first desire this conversion wholeheartedly, knowing that success and failure will be part of the process. But daily prayer and sacrifice will slowly change your feelings of envy, anger, and frustration into the peaceful acceptance of God’s will as it is manifested to you. You’ll not be alone on this journey. Through it all, he will be with you. 

“The Widow’s Mite” by James Tissot, 1886-1894. Photo: Public Domain

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