Lent of Letting Go: Goodbye 401k

“Money: it’s just a means of exchange,” my great uncle used to tell my great aunt, when she was worried about family financies.  But then again, he was a judge in Connecticut’s Supreme Court and lived in a very stately home on Wolcott Hill Road in Wethersfield.  Many others might have a different idea.

I remember when my college philosophy of crisis teacher, during a lecture on global poverty, referenced Lennon’s iconic “Imagine” when she said, “Imagine no possessions…. It’s easy if you’re rich.” 

In other words, money is not just money.  Possessions are not just possessions.  Money is not just a means of exchange.   But I still find comfort in repeating Uncle Edwin’s philosophy about money to myself when there’s not enough of it. 

Starting off this Letting Go Lent with a Bang

Today was the letting go of my 401k balance.  I won’t go into the details of why I had to withdraw all my funds because I’m also trying to let go of self-indulgence, but I can assure you, it was not a gesture or a statement or simply a good topic for this blog.  I have found myself in a situation in which this is the best option for me right now.

In making that call to Fidelity, I had to really detach myself from a lot of negative feelings:

  • I had to let go of fear of lack;
  • I had to let go of grief for all the hard work that went into saving that money;
  • I had to let go of insecure feelings about my own identity and value system;
  • I had to let go of sadness that I may not be able to help my family as much as I would like;
  • I had to let go of anger; and
  • I had to let go of the feeling that I had done something bad or stupid or imprudent that put me in this place.

But those negative feelings are not helpful–especially when the feelings are born of fear, ego identification, and shifting of blame. On the phone with Fidelity, I made some kind of a self-pitying statement to the rep along the lines of, “$25,000 doesn’t go very far these days. “ To which he replied, “Well, that’s more than a lot of people make in a year.”  He shut my mouth.

I love the following quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

The way to misuse our possessions is to use them as an insurance against the morrow.  Anxiety is always directed to the morrow, whereas goods are in the strictest sense meant to be used only for today.  By trying to ensure for the next day we are only creating uncertainty today.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  The only way to win assurance is by leaving tomorrow entirely in the hands of God and by receiving from him all we need for today.  If instead of receiving God’s gifts for today we worry about tomorrow we find ourselves helpless victims of infinite anxiety.    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.  “The Simplicity of the Carefree Life”

I love it because it’s a radical thought.  The idea of not saving for tomorrow flies in the face of wisdom all the way down to Aesop.   But I think he is saying, not that we should not save, but that we should not concern ourselves, nor or be obsessed with worrying about money and hoarding it for the future. 

There is a wonderful article by Peter Singer that was published in the New York Times September 5, 1999 which poses a lot of moral and ethical questions about how much we should save or spend vs. use to better the lives of others.  I won’t get into that discussion here, but here is the link.  The point that is relevant to this issue is, how much do we each think is enough in our banks, in our 401k’s, in our Money Market Funds?  Investment brokers will scare us with calculators that make us feel like if we’re not millionaires by the time we’re 65 we better start saving refrigerator boxes and scout locations under the nearest bridge.  But how much do we need?  And how much should we worry about it?  And how much should we simply put those thoughts away, and go out and enjoy the abundance of God’s blessings in our lives?


So, now that I am back at the starting gate with 0 balance in my 401k, I can detach from fear of tomorrow and replace those feelings with gratitude instead:

I am grateful I have this money to begin with.  It’s really God’s anyway.

I am grateful that I have talents and skills that will allow me to rebuild a retirement savings plan, if that is what I choose to do.

I am grateful that now that the retirement fund horserace is over for the season, when it starts up again I can choose to be more charitable with future earnings.

I am grateful that I can constantly remind myself how blessed I am in, not only bodily needs, but in having the ability to share love with my family and friends. 

If I start feeling ungrateful, or resentful, or fearful, it is up to me to recall how much I really have, and I have the power to detach myself from those feelings of lack and want.

Detachment is so important because it allows us to live in the moment, in which there are always great blessings to be reaped.