Disavowing Poverty

Disavowing Poverty Vows

You may never have taken formal, witnessed poverty vows as my husband John did at the age of 19 while he was in a Roman Catholic religious order, but it’s highly likely that you’ve taken some vows of poverty, intentional or otherwise.

Religious poverty vows are prayed over, even blessed. They aren’t a commitment to being homeless, starving or dressing in rags. They are a vow to simplicity, and an everyday willingness not to be attached to money or the things it could buy. The intent is to free members of any concerns about earning, saving or investing money (unless they are taking on financial roles on behalf of the community) so they are free to focus fully on spiritual life.

What a contrast religious vows are to the get-rich quick, greedy or otherwise definitely non-spiritual vows that drive so many novels, movies, and financial strategy! Often such vows lead to spiritual, emotional and/or financial impoverishment, as definitely was the case with many players in the subprime mortgage meltdown and other disasters.

My favorite example is Scarlett O’Hara, the self-centered heroine of Gone with the Wind, who during the Civil War became responsible for the survival of her family, home and even three former slaves, plus her rival and rival’s baby. After learning that the Yankees (or as they say where I grew up, damnyankees) have either destroyed or stolen anything edible except some dried-up turnips, Scarlet raises her fist in the air and pronounces, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again . . . not me or any of my kin.”

Now that could be a noble vow, but Scarlett adds the commitment to do whatever she deems necessary, including lie, cheat, steal or kill. Though she does become wealthy, she can’t really enjoy it due to the unintentional spiritual and emotional poverty vows which were a by-product of both conscious and unconscious faults like fear, greed, and spite.

Here’s how Scarlett’s unintentional poverty vows might be expressed: I insist on having what I think I want, no matter who is hurt in the process, including my own heart. I will base my business and spending decisions not just on sound business or financial information, but also on such desires as making others pea-green with envy; keeping myself from realizing how much I really love Rhett, not Ashley; and running from the fears that have caused nightmares since I was a child and a lot of grief ever since.

It’s not easy undoing poverty vows. Undoing poverty vows after years in a committed religious order may require years of learning how to make a living, and perhaps becoming totally re-trained. After all, there aren’t a whole lot of job descriptions calling for people who are adept at contemplation and fluent in Latin or Gregorian chant!

Undoing unintentional poverty vows can be even harder. Therapy and coaching can help uncover them; so can reflection on what’s not working around money in your life and considering, “What might I have been thinking when I developed this unfruitful way of dealing with money?”

Here are some unconscious poverty vows to consider:

  • I vow not to learn about money and how to handle it well.
  • I base my financial decisions on shame, fear, or ___________.
  • I choose to base my financial and business planning on hopes and dreams that I have not carefully considered.
  • I choose to trust blindly without giving my financial or business dealings the careful consideration I owe myself and others. (The legal term is “due diligence.”)

What about you? Do any of the above vows sound familiar?

And what’s your true abundance vow when you turn around your poverty vows, either conscious or unintentional, then look into your soul for guidance?

My favorite true abundance vow begins with gratitude for all the gifts I’ve gained from being married to a man who brought his financial challenges and gifts to our marriage. The challenges are nobody’s business but our own, but the gifts include these: Not once have I ever known John to act greedy or mean about money. Instead, his habit of simplicity helps pull me off my high horse and enjoy the moment more. He looks so carefully at any gift that in the process, I see more in the gift. His appreciation is so contagious that I seem to gain more in the giving than he gets in receiving it.

In creating a true abundance vow, I also had to deal with what I’ve learned from my own collection of often-contradictory unintentional poverty vows, like my childhood dreams of wowing everyone who had ever put me down with the huge emerald and flashy sports car I would someday have, mixed with a longtime habit of dreaming big, doing little. And then there are the usual suspects like shame or “I don’t really deserve it.”

Here’s my current true abundance vow. May it inspire you to create your own:

I vow to treat money as an exchange of energy that I use wisely, to the betterment of myself and others. I vow to live simply and richly, basing my financial decisions on a combination of in-the-world research, prayer, and a lot of careful discernment. In this journey of earning and using money more wisely, I give thanks for all the challenges and the beings on this earth who have helped me learn from them.

As always, I hope you enjoy this challenge.

Come back real soon with your thoughts and inspiration,
Pat McHenry Sullivan