Q: I work in a hospital as a lab technician, which doesn't pay well. My wife is a receptionist for a real estate broker, and her salary is also very low. We have to watch every penny. However, I'm going to inherit almost a million dollars from my father, who recently died. At first, my wife and I were thrilled, and we started making all kinds of plans about what we were going to do with the money. But lately, it's been coming between us. Last night, we had a huge fight after I suggested that she should begin studying how to invest, which is something I've already begun doing. She got really mad, and I ended the argument by saying that it was my money and I would do anything I wanted with it. I know there are people out there who would love to have this "problem," but I'm suddenly miserable and confused, and I don't understand why.
--Dave, Albuquerque

A: There is an assumption in our society that individuals who receive a great deal of money are lucky and all their problems are over. However, in the counseling we have done, we have repeatedly seen that whether you have a lot or a little, money is one of the most divisive topics that affect a marriage. The fact that this issue has come between you and your wife is not surprising.

In order to respond rationally to money issues, it's essential to observe how irrationally our culture responds to them. Money is such a conflicted symbol. On the one hand, it represents the key to safety, health, respect, influence, and even love. On the other hand, it represents selfishness, greed, arrogance, and depravity. We want it, but we "know" we shouldn't. It benefits us, but it also corrupts us. Its grip on the minds of most people is so powerful that they will betray their spouse, children, and siblings if forced to choose between these loved ones and money. Because symbols of money are all around us, we are each vulnerable to this disturbed attitude and must remain acutely aware of it if we are to bring peace to our financial lives.

Most of us assume that despite society's conflicted views about money, we ourselves will be immune from such conflict because it will be different for us. However, the countless stories about lottery winners whose lives deteriorate into chaos, or wealthy individuals who commit suicide, should make us recognize that we are all subject to this conflict, whether we have too little or too much money.

Another factor in your "confusion and misery" may be the loss of your father. You do not mention what your relationship with him was like, but losing a parent is much more traumatic for adults than most of us are prepared for. Just because we no longer "need" our parents or because they may have suffered from a debilitating illness that made their deaths a "blessing" does not mean that we do not or should not grieve. While it is crucial for you and your wife to adopt a peaceful, rational approach to this inheritance, you also want to recognize that your father's death may be affecting you more profoundly than you had thought.

Now is the time for you to commit yourself to adopting a complete approach to your "windfall" so that when the money actually arrives, you will be prepared for both the benefits and the difficulties.

One key to a rational approach to money is the "As you were" principle. This is the command shouted by a drill sergeant that means "Return to your previous position." When suddenly you have more money, nothing compels you to change your approach to life. This has nothing to do with behavior, but everything to do with your mental state. Was God your guide before? Then make God your guide again. In other words, do not let the money become your guide, no matter how exciting a guide you may think it can be.

Money provides some additional options, but they are mere options and not necessities. A sunny day also provides options, yet very few people allow sunshine to dictate what they will do today, what attitude they will have toward others, and what subjects will dominate their minds. If yesterday it was raining but today it's all blue skies, we still consult our heart as to what we wish to do and what kind of person we wish to be.

Since money is just faces on strips of paper, it can't guide us. So if we let money dictate our behavior and attitudes, what we actually turn ourselves over to are prevailing attitudes about money, and unfortunately these are very conflicted and unhappy.

As you receive further news about this money, if, over and over, you return to your faith, then your life will not become more cluttered and complicated; your mind will not obsess on acquisition; and you will never, ever make anything more important than your bond and friendship with you wife. Be acutely aware of the conflicted call that money represents, and love more the call of peace and wholeness.
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