It’s a joke, right? Jesus loves finances. Well, really, I think the joke is on us, because I think we love finances too much. More specifically, money.
Last weekend Andy and I had the opportunity to draw up a budget for our family for our next year. And to be clear, ‘year’ starts immediately, not just future away. We had been sorely lacking a budget for too long and I’ve been feeling the stress of not knowing how much we were spending in different areas. It turns out food has gone up considerably and we are struggling to find healthy ways of feeding our family while also attending to my body’s trouble with carbs and reducing our monthly food budget. The problem? Cheap food = carbs. So we’re still working that one out, but now we have a budget for food to work with.
We are not a dual-income family. That is in part by choice, in part by circumstances. I am working towards my Aromatherapy certification, but it is not yet complete. It will be a home-based business and also be part-time. Our priority is me staying home with our children – and that is our choice. This means we have taken a cut to any potential income because of this choice. And on top of that, Andy works for the Catholic church, which notoriously does not provide well-to-do salaries. Last year, our gross income was just over $40,000. Why do I share this? Because sometimes, numbers matter. Are we unhappy? Not at all. In fact, as long as our budgeting is done ensuring that our basic needs are met, we’re definitely happy. Truly I can say at this point, one of the main incentives for me to work part-time is so that we can give more.
You see, we’re aiming to work ourselves up to giving 10% of our income to charity (equal to about $4000 currently, more if I earn an income). We’re not there yet. At this point, we’re at about 5% (approximately $2000). As we work through our budget, we are able to better manage our money and look at reducing areas of expenditure more. Once I start working, we are looking forward to benefiting charities more. Will it happen right away? I hope so. Ideally, it should. The biblical call to take 10% off before settling household affairs is a right challenge (the whole “first fruits” thing) that we are trying to implement in our lives. But according to that system, which I think is important, we’re doing it wrong. We’re not taking the “first fruits.” More like the “can-we-mentally-manage-this-amount” fruits. Know why we’re doing it wrong? Because it scares the living crap out of me. We can’t make ends meet if we do that. It’d be like writing off the property tax each year, which we can’t do. Or not buying food for several months. Which we can’t do either. To give to God (through charities, of which our church is one) 10% of our income first is a step of grandiosity. And I’m just not there yet. When I look at this area in our budget, I sure feel like a failure to trust our most faithful God. And not only that, but Jesus doesn’t make it easier. In coming to fulfill the law and the prophets, he affirms this teaching and also rants at me about my role in justice and love of others. Check it out:
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with her; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38Jane was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39Then the Lord said to her, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
42 ‘But woe to you Jane! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. 43Woe to you Jane! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. 44Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’
45 One of the church-workers (*ahem* Andy) answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ 46And he said, ‘Woe also to you church-worker! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. 47Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. (Luke 11:37-47; alterations mine)
Is that a bit much? I could write it off as silly, but I can’t help but sense that I am a modern-day Pharisee, too. If I were to fling off my fear about giving the whole 10% first, would my worry about finances effectively diminish and I could focus more energy on justice and love of neighbour? I want our money to be used well. I want to be a good steward of the generous lot that has been given to me, but I don’t want to be living and breathing stress about it either, because then I believe I would slowly lose the gratitude for all that I truly do have. Jesus reminds me that I need to be concerned with more than just giving money, though. Money is part of it, but it is not the whole.
The thing is, I believe God is concerned about how we approach money. The term ‘money’ or ‘coin’ is used quite a lot in the Gospels (see Matthew 17:27, 19:21, 21:12, 22:19, 25:18, 26:9, 27:6, 28:12; Mark 6:8, 10:21, 11:15, 12:41, 14:5, 14:11; Luke 3:14, 9:3, 15:9, 16:14, 18:22, 19:15, 21:2, 22:5; John 2:14, 12:5). Our attachment to money (consequently, the things we can do with money) is a problem. The reason? Our attachment to money creates a barrier between us and God and between us and our neighbour.
And we know what Jesus has told us about our neighbour (see reference to The Good Samaritan). When we become focused on what we need and build up fear about it, we refuse to let it go. We hold it close and want to control. When we do this there is no room for the Spirit to intercede. There is no room for love. And I know that this is exactly what I’m doing when I refuse to trust that God will help provide what I need.
I’m in the process. I’m slow to let go of this control. Maybe we’ll get to the 10% before I start making a small income. But I’m certain we will get there one way or another. We’re committed to training ourselves to letting go of our control and hold on money. It just takes awhile.
Where are you at with your attitude toward money?