It was inevitable, and it happened. Sometime this past September I found myself squirming through a sermon on the subject of giving, specifically giving money to the work of God.
When Erik and I first got married we were very good givers. Without getting into too much detail, we found ourselves falling behind financially and in the end decided this wasn’t working and stopped all of it. At the time I’d read a Suze Orman book which said tithing too much could be an abuse against yourself, although to her credit she did encourage generous giving according to your ability. In any case, we stopped altogether.
In the mean time I learned all kinds of things about how the monetary system of our country is rigged and false anyway, and designed to make us poor and so forth. More on this can be learned by checking out websites such as the Mises Institute and reading the book The Creature from Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin. For the purposes of this essay, the reason this is important is because it provided a certain amount of justification for continuing to not give financially.
I found myself listening to this sermon–which gave a lot of the usual points about how little Christians actually give and how greed is not limited to the wealthy and even those of us who are poor by American standards are fabulously rich compared to most of the world, and there were some new perspectives as well–with this sinking feeling in my stomach that it was now time to act on the message. It was time to start giving. At the same time my mind was ready with all the usual rationalizations, many of which included stuff about how our money is fake anyway. I remember the preacher saying how most people think they don’t have enough and can’t possibly give. As he preceded to address that issue in some way I no longer remember, I was ready with my ironclad rationalization: ”Most of us really don’t have enough because they have rigged the system precisely to enslave us by making sure we never have enough and therefore remain too busy barely surviving to be able to resist them.”
Somehow I knew none of that was going to matter. Have you ever found yourself arguing with the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit while knowing you were going to lose in the end? It’s almost like the arguing is a mere formality, a way to cover your bases, dot your i’s and cross your t’s. You do it because you want to make sure you don’t leave anything out, but you know deep down what the outcome is going to be.
Then I got an idea. I had just started my new job as Director of Religious Education at my parish, and I knew I’d get my first paycheck soon. It was too perfect. I hadn’t gotten used to spending that money yet, and since this is a part-time position it wasn’t all that much anyway–I didn’t take the job for the money. My husband’s birthday was coming up, and he’d expressed a desire to give again, though he knew we were barely keeping up as it was. The next day I drove to a local bank and opened up two new checking accounts.
Erik’s birthday gift from me was a checkbook and a promise that it would be funded each month with half of my paycheck for him to use for whatever kind of giving to the Lord (or to anyone, including himself) he wanted. Out of my half, I designated a nice round number which made up most of it for my own giving and in November I wrote my first checks.
I’ve heard it said that you can’t outgive God. While giving to God should definitely be unconditional–not expecting something in return as if you were buying God’s favor by writing a check–God Himself is generous, and it seems He can’t wait to give to us.
Sometime after I’d decided how I would spend my paycheck, my parish priest asked me if he could put my family on the giving tree. I agreed, and submitted such information as my children’s clothing sizes, favorite colors and types of toys they’d want.
The children received not one but five gifts each from our donor family. And the gifts were amazing. New beautiful coats for each one of them. Several sets of toys. Ballet leotards. Fashionable outfits. Stuff you don’t find at thrift stores! Erik and I were not forgotten–we each got a gift card to a grocery store, which we used to buy food for our New Year’s Eve party.
When my children were in The Nutcracker, I asked three local business owners to sponsor them, figuring I’d have to ask quite a few more before having their performance costs (which we really couldn’t afford) covered. Immediately, two of the three agreed to sponsor, and the only cost I incurred for my children’s amazing performing arts experience was some gas to get them to rehearsals and a fast food meal eaten out a couple times. Around that time, their grandparents came up to see the show and while they were here they showered us with their Christmas gifts. We got Christmas gifts from other family members as well.
I’ve never had a job where I got any kind of bonuses or gifts beyond the salary. Until now. Right before Mass the priest handed me an envelope with my Christmas bonus inside. I asked Jesus for guidance as to how I should spend it.
The next day a friend drove up to our home and when I answered his knock, he handed me an envelope. Inside was an unsigned Christmas card with a substantial amount of cash inside. Between that and my Christmas bonus we’ve pretty much decided to build the children a loft in their playroom, something that occurred to me a few weeks prior. I didn’t realize my daydreaming about a loft and verbalizing it to my sister (whose husband is an excellent woodworker) was a prayer!
Shortly after Christmas, my priest told me he wanted to give me something. That something turned out to be a gift card so I could buy myself a nice pair of winter boots. That was another one of those idle thoughts I’d had several days prior–it would sure be great to have a nice pair of boots for the snow.
Today a parishioner I barely know gave me a child-sized guitar for my oldest daughter, something one of her grandchildren no longer needed.
I have a feeling I’m leaving out a few things. We had a fantastic and abundant Christmas. And this is starting to read like George Mueller’s autobiography!
Earlier today I ran a little tally on the money I had given so far and the estimated monetary value of all we’d received during the Christmas season.
God (through various generous people): conservatively, $1,000; more likely closer to $1,500.
It’s clear I’m not going to win this “competition” which really never was a competition. The Holy Spirit impressed on my heart that it was time for me to start giving some of our money back to God, and by His grace I found it in me to take that risk, knowing that we’re still struggling to keep up (that really hasn’t changed much the entire time we’ve been married). He has given to us in abundance. I don’t want to say that it was because of my gift to Him. But the association in time is powerful to me. I will keep giving to Him, and that giving itself is a prayer expressing that I really do trust Him to provide for me and my family and meet our needs.
We still have needs. Not all of them have been answered, including some things that have been a matter of prayer for months. The last thing I want to do is give an impression that because I did something right my life has now miraculously transformed from pathetic to perfect, and it can happen to you if you just do the same. God works in much more interesting and complex ways, and there is no one size fits all. But I will say that God is incredibly generous. He really does care for His children and He provides what we need. I have every confidence that those needs we still have will be met in some way, and I have to keep trusting Him to come through, and also understand that sometimes the best thing is for those needs to go unmet for a time, or always (that doesn’t change who God is). Regardless, it is good and right for me to consistently give to God a generous portion of my earnings as part of my overall giving of myself to Him.