19 ¶Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: (Matt. 6:19-20)
For nearly all my life this has been my favorite scriptural passage. Early on I realized that one of the greatest failings of our Anglo-American culture here in the USA is the worship of money. If we list the things that are the most important to us, whatever is at the top is our God. That is what we worship. And for many or perhaps most of us, that is money and the things that money can buy. And money worship is a form of idolatry, a false God.
When I was a young man, I made a conscious decision to become successful, whatever that means. So I went to the Salt Lake City public library and looked up “success” in the card catalog. Then, after choosing the book I wanted, I went into the stacks and found Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. After reading that book I realized that anyone can become as rich as he wants to be by applying the principles taught in that book.
So I set a goal for my life to become rich, to get a lot of money, a rather immodest sum. Then I went to work. Almost overnight my income multiplied by many times. I bought a new car, and got an expensive suit and pair of shoes. I started studying to become a stock broker, and worked over eighty hours a week. Soon I was living in expensive hotels and eating in the finest restaurants. My pocket filled up with a multitude of credit cards that had large credit limits. I maxed them out, but had no trouble making the monthly payments. I got married to a woman who wanted all these thing just as much as I did.
Then I lost my job. But my income didn’t drop. I just started working two full-time jobs. Then I started to itch so horribly that I had to go see a doctor. He told me I had a condition he had seen many times before. I had executive itch. I was working so hard that my nervous system was rebelling and my body was falling apart because of the stress of my workaholic behavior. I decided to quit one of my jobs, and the moment I made the decision, even before I quit the second job, my itching stopped. And of course my income was cut in half. I lost my car. Then I lost my wife for whom a high standard of living was very important along with the money needed to pay for it. From this I learned a valuable lesson:
It is better to get married when you are poor and then get rich than it is to get rich and then get married.
Several times during my youth I tried to get rich by working two full-time jobs. And every time I did so, my mental health went into the toilet and I had to quit my second job. Finally I decided that perhaps it would be better if I set a different goal for my life. And I decided to apply the same goal seeking principles to living my religion. I decided to Momonize my life, to become a super Mormon. I began attending Church with a vengeance, repenting of my sins with great drive and ambition, and feasting upon the words of Christ by reading the scriptures as once I had read science fiction, with complete absorption and focus.
As a result, I learned another lesson. Righteousness can bring more happiness and contentment than money can. Righteousness can often bring money into ones life, but the reverse is not true. Money rarely brings one righteousness.
The thought occurred to me that the more money one aims for, the greater the risk of failure and unhappiness. The less money one needs to be happy, the greater his chances for happiness.
A few years later I got a job driving a log truck. I hauled logs for the White Mountain Apache in Arizona for one complete logging season. I drove between fourteen and eighteen hours a day. I had a lot of time to think while I drove. A thought came to me that has never left me. Men are not equal in money. But they are equal in time. Every person born under heaven has the same amount of time, twenty-four hours a day. In this they are equal. But not every man spends his time in the same way. All men spend their time on one of three things or a combination of them. He spends his time on converting time to money, or converting time to learning, or converting time to building relationships.
Most of us spend a little time on each of these three things. But inevitably we spend most of our time on one of them. Time really is money if one chooses to devote his life to the making of money. The more time he spends at this, the more money he makes. But if he does this, invariably he must neglect the other two investments. He has to decide what is most important to him. He only has twenty-four hours a day, and if he shorts learning and building relationships in order to free up time for making money he will impoverish himself.
Why is that? It is because you can’t take it with you. Learning remains with you beyond death. So do your most precious relationships. But the money and the things money can buy are all stripped from us when we pass through the veil. Money doesn’t last. And just as a married man or women loses his sweetheart at death unless he is sealed by the priesthood in the temple, so a man loses his money. It is not one of those things that is eternal as he is. Every one of us is an eternal being, but our money is not part of us. Our learning and our loving relationships are.
One of my all-time favorite cartoons depicts two men dressed in business attire standing beside a casket at a funeral or viewing. One said to the other, “How much did he leave?” The other replied, “Everything.” So true. So true.
One of the most important things the Savior ever tried to teach us is that some riches are fleeting and do not follow us into the grave. But the riches that do follow us eternally are the true riches. They are what bring us lasting joy.