What’s your risk quotient? Michelle Van Loon helps us evaluate how we’re investing what God has entrusted to us.
Unburying that One “Talent” I Stashed
By Michelle Van Loon
During the U.S. economy’s meltdown in 2008, I got on the phone with my financial advisor (let’s call him Frank for the purposes of this post) as the stock market was in what looked to a lot of us like a near free-fall. “I am watching the news every day and am freaking out,” I said. “I told you before that I’m risk-averse! If there was such a thing as a Mattress Fund, where I could stick my money in a mattress like they did in the old days, that’s what I would do right now.”
I’d never before had anything of worth to discuss with a financial advisor, nor had I ever paid a whiff of attention to the stock market. But I’d just recently received a small inheritance after my mom’s death the previous year, and needed some professional assistance with moving the funds from Point A to Point B. Frank convinced me to set up some kind of mutual fund thing that was tied to what he described as their most conservative financial instrument. The whole enterprise felt a little like a pinstriped, buttoned-down version of a Vegas bet to me, but everyone in my life convinced me that this was wise financial move.
That inheritance money had a different meaning to me than the money my husband and I earned. It was a tangible reminder of my parents’ hard work. I could not gamble it away just because Frank told me I had a sure thing.
Frank was silent for a moment. “Your money is in our most conservative fund. You really need to take a long view, and not be rocked by the ups and downs of the market. You need to think about your future.”
I thought about it for maybe seven seconds. “I am taking a long view. I want to move those funds into an insured savings account or C.D. today.”
“But you won’t earn any interest.”
“Yeah, but I won’t lose any more money, either.”
At that point in the conversation, something in my voice must have convinced him to stop trying to sell me on his wonderful plan for the money and kiss his commission goodbye. We worked through the paperwork to move the funds to our bank, where it went into a very boring Mattress Fund savings account.
For a long time, I wondered if my extreme aversion to financial risk made me like the guy in the parable – the one who took the single talent (worth the equivalent of 20 years’ labor) – and buried it in a hole for safekeeping. Jesus told this parable in order to encourage his disciples not to sit on the treasure of the gospel with which they’d been entrusted, but to multiply it, investing it in the lives of those to whom they were about to be sent. He’d shown them just how to do this for three years.
Still, I wondered if my Mattress Fund thinking meant I was given to some form of hoarding. Was I burying treasure in a proverbial hole because I was afraid of the future? Of the present?
Yes. I am afraid. Not paralyzed, but hesitant. Unsure about the future. Mistrustful of the world’s solutions. Simultaneously unsurprised and brokenhearted at so many leadership failures and abuse stories being revealed in the church. I know I’m not alone. I think a lot of us are feeling it these days. And here’s one thing I know for certain in the midst of all this uncertainty: It’s tough to live as a pilgrim when you’re so scared of taking a step that you decide to dig yourself a hole and hide in it until Jesus returns.
Quoting verses trying to convince myself not to bury my life in a mattress doesn’t make the fear go away. In fact, I find myself fighting my old nemesis, Shame, who hisses the lie at me that if only I had a little more faith, I wouldn’t be afraid.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. (Ecclesiastes 11:2)
Not long ago, I realized that maybe I’d missed a deeper message in my visceral reaction to the financial crisis over a decade ago. It turns out my subsequent financial decisions about those funds weren’t made because I was burrowing into my own fears about the future.
Instead of doing what a perfect stranger with a corner office told me to do, I think I’ve honored both God and my parents’ hard work by using about half those funds to help with college expenses for two of our children, paying for our portion of a wedding, providing some practical assistance to our grandsons, covering some living expenses during my husband’s unemployment, helping some people along the way, and traveling to Israel to serve and learn. I may not have earned much interest, but I’ve tried to invest in things that have value. When I tabulate all of those expenditures, I feel like I’ve gotten an excellent return on the investment I made of not investing.
Maybe there’s a word of encouragement to all of us who are feeling scared about what the next week (or year, or ten minutes) might hold. Don’t hide yourself in a bunker, or under a bushel. Tell God you’re afraid. I promise you will not surprise him with this confession. (And please seek medical care if the anxiety is swallowing you alive.)
Ask him to help you find some way to give a little of what he’s given you to someone else – a word, a cup of coffee, a bag of groceries, a prayer, or even a check. It might be the best investment you can make with the talent that is the life he’s given you.
If you follow the Christian practices of Lent, which begins this week, the disciplines are prayer, fasting, and generosity. As you reflect on Michelle’s story, consider creative ways to express generosity.
Michelle Van Loon is the author of seven books, including her most recent - Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma. Her book, Moments and Days, takes you into the rhythm of the feasts of the Bible and the Christian calendar. Michelle has a wide range of published work to her credit including articles, curriculum, devotionals, articles, and plays. She is a founding member of The Pelican Project, a women's theology organization, and the co-founder of ThePerennialGen.com a website for midlife women and men. Learn more about her work at MichelleVanLoon.com.