I’ll just name the elephant in the room. This post is about money. Whether you have a lot or a little, you’ve got it, and chances are good that you’re wondering what you should be doing with it.
Maybe your reality is the very difficult decision to pay rent or to pay for medication. Maybe you’re eating peanut butter and jelly while trying to pay for college loans, or wondering slack-jawed what college will cost when your infant graduates from high school. Perhaps you are saving for a reliable car, or a first house. Maybe you’re agonizing over whether you can retire in a way that will meet your long-term needs.
Money, Money, Money, Money
Pandemic or not, studies show that most Americans cannot handle an unexpected $400 bill without going into debt. In some cases, debt prevents individuals from pursuing religious life until they can pay off student loans.
If this is you, you are not alone.
For many, there is just not enough to go around, and equally prevalent is the lack of confidence or absolute fear of looking at the numbers on paper and knowing how to proceed. Add to this the stigma of talking about finances as though we are not in complete control, and we understandably have a real problem on our hands.
I will be the first to tell you that I am not an expert in finances. I am a stay-at-home-mom with a husband who works for a non-profit. So while we are well-versed in coupons, Craigslist, and second-hand, I am not writing this piece because we are having hospital wings named after us. Rather, it’s because we are frequently in conversation about finances, how to steward them well, what that looks like, and what we can learn.
Sorting It Out
We learned early on in our marriage that we would need to run a pretty tight ship, financially-speaking. In an effort to do that we have read a lot, tried a handful of methods, and continue to adjust as needed.
But this year, we participated in a Catholic finance program, Faith & Money Matters by Compass Catholic Ministries, which really connected the heart of addressing our finances in a way that connects us to the heart of what God desires our relationship with money to look like. Rather than a class format, it was offered as a Bible Study, and we were so impressed by its step-by-step process for helping people to get out of debt and to a place where they could be excited to give money away with an open hand rather than a clenched fist.
Finances are an integral part of our daily lives, yet so few of us are really comfortable when the conversation turns to money—even within our own families. Add a pandemic and possible furlough/job changes, and a topic that is usually uncomfortable becomes downright unsettling. Making ends meet can feel like enough of a burden, and the expectation to share on top of it can feel almost laughable.
He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood” (Luke 21:3-4).
Recently I was in conversation with a friend who shared that she has noticed a negative connotation between the term “stewardship” and peoples’ reluctance to give. In her experience, asking folks to be stewards of their time, talent, and treasure most often was heard as giving only treasure, and is typically greeted without much enthusiasm.
“How can we change the conversation to one that gets people excited to share,” she wondered out loud?
One of the best snarky fundraiser lines I ever heard went something like this: Good news, we have all the money we need for the renovation project. Bad news, it’s still in your wallets.
We have all been there on Sunday when the visiting missionary comes to speak at the time of the second collection. Often we are inspired by what they have to share, but there is absolutely reluctance when it comes to actually handing it over. After all, we have worked hard to earn this money and it is ours, fair and square, we assure ourselves. We can already envision at least four ways this money could be put to good use for our own family, right?
Reminder: It All Belongs to God
Look, the heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it. -Deuteronomy 10:14
Sure, our paychecks are earned; they are earned by the talents and skills we have been given by God. Returning a portion of the gifts we have received has so much less to do with our generosity than it does with our willingness to collaborate with God by way of responding to the opportunities that arise for us to give of ourselves—and often, they pinch.
There are over 2,500 passages in Scripture that speak to a having a positive relationship with money and it all comes down to these simple themes:
- Be in right relationship with your money by not making it an idol (Matthew 6:19-21).
- Do your best to stay out of debt; when you get into debt-pay it off (Romans 13:8).
- Bless others to the extent you are able (Tobit 4:7-11).
How Much is “Enough”?
This is the million dollar question. Given a popular opinion poll, many of us would respond that 10% of our income is the appropriate amount to give (although this is not a limit). For some, this amount is completely overwhelming, while for others, it might just be another budget line item not given much thought.
The key focusing question should be: How much do I desire to give? This says everything about the posture of our giving. If what we desire to give does not match our means, start with what you can do and pray for circumstances that allow for greater generosity. It may surprise you to see the way God shows up in our desire to give.
Even if our budget allows for us to include a 10% tithe on a monthly basis, our spirit toward giving can become an autopilot response. On one hand this is a great problem to have; on the other hand it is a good indication that we’re being invited to an embodied stewardship—one that involves ongoing conversations that stretch us beyond setting up automatic bill pay.
A healthy relationship with tithing is a regular commitment to giving of our means in such a way as to prioritize our offering, while meeting the needs of our circumstances.
Imagine the joy in helping to support organizations, foster families, and outreach programs that are close to your heart. Some suggest doing this at a local, national, and global scale, dividing your tithe three ways.
However you choose to be generous, God intends the experience to be one of joy. Not a grumbling, “How much is enough?” but rather, “How much can we offer?”
The key is getting started. Take that drive-thru coffee out of your budget and replace it with something meaningful: funds an organization of your choice can depend on.
The Catholic Church has a legacy of being the most charitable institution in the world. Drawing on Scripture, tithing, social teaching, and the practice of giving alms, this is a tradition worth continuing. Of course we cannot give what we do not have. We can learn a lot from the widow’s mite in Luke’s Gospel, combined with the encouragement littered throughout Scripture to steward well what we have.
Even if it means starting with small contributions, what kinds of outreach would you be thrilled to support?
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