The filing date for income tax returns is fast approaching and so I thought I would begin with the only joke I know regarding paying taxes. The joke is about a man who was having trouble sleeping at night because he felt so guilty about the fact that he had recently cheated when filing his taxes. He had lied by underreporting his income from his small business, which he knew resulted in his cheating the government out of two thousand dollars. He felt so guilty about what he had done that he had not been able to get a good night's sleep since filing, as he would toss and turn wondering if he should correct his wrongdoing. Unsure of how to proceed, he went to talk to his minister about it. He confessed what he had done and asked her what she thought he should do. Not hesitating a minute, the minister praised him for admitting his mistake. She told him that he should send a letter immediately to the IRS, apologizing for his wrongdoing, and include payment for the unpaid taxes.
The man went home and thought about it for a while and then decided on a compromise. He decided to send the following anonymous note to the IRS. "I am sorry to say that I underpaid my taxes by $2,000 in my most recent income tax filing, and since that time I have not been able to get a single night of good sleep. I feel horribly guilty, and so I have enclosed $1,000 in cash with this note. If this doesn't help, and I find that I still can't sleep, I will send the other $1,000 right away."
Our relationship with money is complex. We want to have the right relationship with money and yet, as this joke reveals, there can be a conflict between our own interests and doing what we know is ethical and right. There are few things in life that attract as much energy and attention as money. I found this to be true in my years of doing marriage and family counseling, as conflicts over money were one of the most common reasons for seeking help. The conflicts were not usually about money itself, but about conflicting attitudes about the use and role of money in one's life.
Our attitudes about money are influenced by our spiritual beliefs and our core values, which is why every major religion offers teachings about the importance of one's relationship with money. Money, in and of itself, is neutral--it is not good or bad, positive or negative, secular or spiritual; it is our relationship with money that can be spiritual or not, positive or negative. For example, the Bible says that, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." It is important to note that it is saying that's one's relationship with money can be the root of bad things-not money itself. If the love of money drives a person to neglect his or her most important relationships, and those relationships suffer, then it is safe to say that the love of money is at the root of the problem. When a person compromises their health on the way to accumulating wealth then it is clear that their love for money is at the root of the problem. On the other hand, when a person is generous with their money, sharing it with others and supporting good causes, then they exemplify a positive use of and relationship with money.
Few things reveal or express our spirituality and core values more than the decisions we make about how we spend and share our money. As we pause to file our income taxes this time of year, it is also a good time to reflect on how fully the decisions we are making about money align with our core values. To the degree that our values and the decisions we make about money align, we will experience, along with many other benefits, a good night's sleep!