Six Stories of Stewardship
The Acts 8 Movement is running a BLOGFORCE on the question: “How has financial giving impacted your spiritual life?” I couldn’t narrow it down to just one thing, so you get six. Because I’m a cheerful giver like that.
My daughter recently turned seven, and as such, began receiving an allowance from me. She gets $7 per week, and the only rule is that she put at least $1 in both her Save bank and her Give bank (the rest can go in the Spend bank, and usually does). She complains every time about putting money in the Save bank (what’s the point? What am I saving it for? I’d rather use it now) but never once has complained about her Give bank. She loves taking that money to church and putting it in the offering plate. I suspect that a big part of her delight in doing so is rooted in pride that she is able to do that, showing off to the other kids, but what of it? The money still goes to the same place and does the same good work.
I have dramatically reconfigured my financial life over the past few years, to better align my life goals with my financial planning. A huge part of that has been to automate my annual pledge to the church, so that it comes out of my bank account on the first of the month, without any further action from me. It’s just not something I have to think about any more. I don’t have to debate whether I buy a new pair of shoes or give money to the church. It’s ritual, like replying “and also with you” when I hear someone say “the Lord be with you.” It is what I do. It’s a part of who I am.
In this season of my life, with an elementary-school-aged kid involved in lots of activities and a demanding full-time job, I don’t have any spare time to give to the church. I barely have time to go to church, but that’s another poorly-written essay for another time. Most of the time I feel like a disappointment to God (hey, another essay topic!) — I don’t have a great practice of reading Scripture, my prayer life is mostly talking to God in my car, I’m not actively involved in Christian education. But I can give of the money I earn, the money that comes from God in the first place. I can claim that gold star, and so I do.
On page 848 of the Book of Common Prayer, our statement of faith (commonly known as the catechism) says that our duty to our neighbors is to “…use our talents and possessions as one who must answer for them to God.” Our duty to our neighbors! Not to God, not to the poor, but to our neighbors, and through them, to Jesus our Lord. Giving a portion of my financial gain to the church is one way that I can prepare my answer to God for how I used the gifts I have been given to help my fellow human.
Sometimes giving to the church can feel a little bit nebulous. It’s not like giving to a food bank or a homeless shelter, an organization with one sole purpose. The money I give to my congregation might go to pay our staff, to heat the building, to fund the youth group, or to do something I don’t even know about. That’s tough for me, and it’s needed. I don’t always get to direct God’s actions. Actually, I don’t ever get to direct God’s actions, and that is the hardest thing for a control freak like me. I have to let the money go and trust that God will do with it what God will.
In order to give my money to God, I have to believe that I can survive with less money than I earn. I have to trust God’s providence. I am not good at trusting God. I’m good at SAYING I trust God, but when push comes to shove, I’m going to be working behind the scenes as much as humanly possible to make sure things go the way I want them to go. It’s funny that I feel this way, because when I look back at my life, it’s clear that I could not have made my life happen the way it has happened on my own. God’s hand was there. Yet, I still worry, and I still fumble with trying to create my own reality, and every time the month changes, some money leaves my account and my bills all still get paid and I’m still able to buy lipsticks and take my daughter to the movies and give to other causes that I care about. God provides. I am okay. And each year I increase my gift a nominal amount, and each year I’m still okay. I’m still more than okay.
Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. –Prayer for the Right Use of God’s Gifts, Book of Common Prayer, page 827.