I used to think one of the great things about having a lot of money was freedom. And I know I’m not alone in this. You hear it on infomercials all the time: “Financial FREEDOM can be yours! For just 5 easy payments of $49.95!” Oh, the irony.

As Americans, we especially love the idea of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue liberty and happiness. Freedom is an amazing thing! But having been on the other side of financial freedom, I can tell you that there is a dark side: freedom can also be completely crippling! While basking in the sun all day on a tropical beach for the rest of your life sounds really appealing (and is probably the ideal picture of retirement for most people), I’ve found that it also erodes your sense of purpose and drive that got you there in the first place.

There were two times in my life where I’ve achieved financial freedom. The first was when my first startup company was generating enough profit that I could basically do nothing and still make a comfortable living. Even though being able to do nothing was awesome at first, it soon became draining and life sucking. Thankfully, my company was acquired and I went back into the rat race. During that time of “freedom” I learned that work is sacred, and we were created to be engaged in purposeful work for the rest of our lives. I find it interesting that in the Bible, one of the primary things that became cursed as a result of the introduction of sin was the very notion of work!

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you” – Genesis 3:17-18

Painful toil! Can you relate to that at your job? I sure can! It’s important to remember, though, that work is not the problem. Work is a divine calling. God told Adam that his job was to “work and take care of” the garden. I’d like to imagine pre-fall Adam skipping through the Garden of Eden without a care in the world, tending to his duties with joy and excellence. I don’t think he got a case of the Mondays until much later. Work is cursed because we live in a fallen world, but like everything in this life—work can be redeemed.

The second time I’ve hit financial freedom is right now, as I have enough saved up through the years that I can comfortably retire, based on the Rule of 25. For those unfamiliar with the Rule of 25, allow me a quick tangent. It’s a rough metric that lets you know if you are ready to retire. Essentially, you pick a number that represents everything you need to live the lifestyle you want for the rest of your life. For the sake of easy math, let’s say that is $100,000 a year. You then multiply that by 25, and if your liquid net worth (cash, bonds, stocks) meets or exceeds that amount, you can comfortably retire, assuming you put that liquid capital in a conservative investment mix that nets you 7% returns year over year in the long term. I’m very fortunate and blessed that I’m able to achieve financial freedom at a young age.

So what now? Freedom feels great, but I know from experience that it’s not the end all. May I suggest that what really matters is not freedom, but options. Having freedom in and of itself is worthless without options to pursue. If you are stuck in a job that you hate, but don’t have any savings, you have no options. As much as you want to quit that job, you can’t or you will end up on the street. As you build your financial muscle, more desirable career options open up. You don’t have to toil painfully, but you can choose options that give you more joy and fulfillment, even at the expense of what the world tells you that you should want. Want to switch careers? Financial options let you do that. Want to take a much lower paid position at a non profit? A look at your financial options will inform your choice. Want to start your own company and not take a salary for 2 years? Financial options are your key to making that dream come true. The more financial options you have, the better equipped you are to find the specific career calling that will bring you lifetime fulfillment. To clarify, this doesn’t mean that you need to have enough saved up to comfortably retire! Even having sixth months of savings puts you substantially ahead of most people that live paycheck to paycheck.

There is a parable in the bible that illustrates the concept of knowing and taking advantage of your financial options. It’s the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16:1-3. Basically, it’s about a dude who knows that he is going to get fired. So he decides to slash a bunch of debts for his boss’s clients in the hopes that once he is let go, those same clients would offer him a job. On the surface, this seems like an incredibly unethical thing to do. But the part that always got me was that the boss in this parable actually commended the guy for being shrewd! Is the Bible condoning fraud? I don’t think so. As with most parables, it’s exaggerated to make a point, which is explicitly stated in verse 11: “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” In other words, how we handle our finances is a reflection of how we will handle everything else. Be clever and shrewd with money. Don’t let money use you, but bend and use money to your will to open up options and opportunities for your life!

I find that a lot of people have two opposing views on money. Some think that money is the root of all evil, and others think money is the key to a future of leisure. May I suggest that both of these extremes are unhealthy. Money isn’t evil, nor is it a key to freedom. What money gives you are options to redeem work in your life and allow you to explore opportunities that provide more purpose and fulfillment. And isn’t that what we all crave after all?

What financial options are you seeking in your life? Let me know in the comments below.