Have you ever been asked how much money you make? Did you answer them? It is a question that often puts people on the defensive. It might be a cultural thing since most North Americans in general tend to avoid asking questions like this. Those who do ask are usually kids, or foreigners, who aren’t familiar with the nuances of Western social norms. Talking about personal finance ranks up there with politics, religion and bedroom antics as topics that are only discussed on a need-to-know basis. Typical responses to such a direct question usually end up with answers like “None of your business”, “Not enough” or “I do OK”; which politely try to deflect the question.
Why don’t we talk about our income?
These responses do beg the question: why are we so hesitant to talk frankly about topics surrounding our financial situation? If we want to reach a place where we can have productive conversations about money, at some point we are going to need to get into specifics. How much we make is one of those specifics we just can’t avoid. After mulling it over, grouping and ungrouping possibilities and changing my mind a few times, I wrote down the two main reasons I think we avoid talking honestly about our finances and specifically our income. I believe they might sound something like this:
I don’t like to talk about how much I make because:
1. I don’t want to make someone feel inferior when they find out I make more money then them (especially if they think I don’t deserve it);
and at the same time:
2. I don’t want to feel inferior if I find out I make less than them.
But why do I feel this way?
In our society, nearly everything has dollar value attached to it. Possessions, time, even our lives (think insurance) are converted to a monetary value on a daily basis. In like manner, our society has told us that the more we have to pay, the more something must be worth. When we have to pay more for a Ferrari than a Ford, we tend to think that the Ferrari must be better. Unfortunately, if you use metrics like how much you own, or how much you make to calculate your own self-value, you can start to think that you are worth more or less than others based on these measurements alone. This type of self-worth is misguided, especially when we know that God doesn’t look at your net-worth when He determines your worth to Him. Tweet!
So how should we think about and discuss our income?
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
-Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV-
God clearly doesn’t have much regard towards using earthly measures like wisdom, strength or personal wealth to compare ourselves to one another, so neither should we. When we get away from defining ourselves in terms of these limited metrics, we can be proud of the fact that God loves us and wants us to live a just and righteous life. If someone makes more then us, we should learn from them. If they make less, we should teach them. The best part is we can do either openly without the pride, guilt and jealousy that too often get entwined in these types of conversations. Most importantly, recognize that God has provided us income to meet our needs and not to fulfill our self-worth. Tithe, give and serve generously, knowing that these won’t take away from your worth, but will actually add to it.