Like millions of other Americans last week, I bought a lottery ticket. And like millions of other Americans, I didn’t win. As my friends and I were discussing our plans for when we won, I commented that it would be nice to at least put some aside for retirement. I commented, “It might not be biblical, but it would just be nice to know I didn’t have to worry.”
When I didn’t win, my thoughts went back to 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, and other abbreviations I should know more about than I do. But they also went back to my comment about whether or not my plans were biblical. I decided there were several lessons I could learn from not winning the lottery.
1. Yes, Jesus tells us not to worry about retirement.
In one of the most comforting passages in Mathew’s Gospel, he reminds us, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” (Mt 6:25-27)
If you let your anxiety about tomorrow take away your peace, you’re not listening to the Lord. I’m not saying that God’s going to magically take care of my retirement. But I shouldn’t let anxiety over it consume me. That may be easier said than done, but I have to pray to trust the Lord and go forward knowing he will take care of me. However…
2. Not worrying about retirement doesn’t equal living carelessly or neglecting our future.
Worrying isn’t the same as planning. Jesus would not be opposed to me putting money in my 401k. He doesn’t want us to be anxious, but he’s not suggesting we don’t plan.
Just take a look at the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:14-30) Each man was given a certain amount of money based on his skill and ability. The master didn’t expect the man with one talent to make as much as the man he gave five, but he was certainly expecting him to do something.
We were all put on this earth with the mission to till and keep it, and that means more than caring for creation. It means we were given the mission to care for each other and further the mission of Christ’s Church. That means different things for every person, but it generally means being a good steward of resources, both natural and financial, so that we can provide for our family’s needs, contribute to the Church, and help the poor. It entails some level of fiscal responsibility.
Sure, when I was planning on winning the lottery, I had plenty of great charitable causes and foundations set up in my head. Even though I didn’t win the lottery, I still need to be a good steward. Maybe instead of the amount of five talents, I’ve been given the money of one– the Lord will call me to account for that one.
3. It’s not bad to be rich.
Scripture says the love of money is the root of all evil, not the possession of it. I don’t think God condemns playing the lottery now and then (I hope it goes without saying that this takes into account the lesson of #2. If you’re blowing all your money on it, it’s sinful.), and he definitely doesn’t condemn rich people to hell because they’re rich. It seems that we have a lot of class envy in our world today, and much of it stems more from jealousy than care for the poor. I’m not saying we don’t need to fight to solve the issue of poverty in this world. But while some people are called to renounce all their riches (like St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis, or St. Clare), others are called to use their riches (like St Louis of France, St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Thomas More, or St. Frances of Rome).
It is less about the number in your checking account than it is the preoccupation with that number in your heart. Jesus warned of the camel and the eye of the needle (Mt 19:24) because he knows it’s easier to love money when it’s sitting in piles in your mansion than when there are dust bunnies in your wallet. At the same time, there can be selfish and greedy people at any income level.
Remember, it’s not about the number of talents we’ve been given. It’s about what we do with them. Are we good stewards? Are we willing to give away what we’ve been given? Where is my heart? “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
I know I’m probably happier that I didn’t win. Sure, if I would have won, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to worry about retirement. But I’d have 900 million other things to worry about.
“It would just be nice to know I didn’t have to worry.” Well, guess what? I don’t have to worry. I need to be a good steward of what I’ve been given. After all, whether it’s the widow’s mite or the Powerball winnings, it’s the Lord’s. It comes from him and it goes back to him. At the end of the day, what really matters is holiness.
“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Philipians 4:12-13)