Monday, March 7, 2016

Do I Give Enough?

At the beginning of each year, our church hands out boxes of 52 envelopes.  These envelopes are a soft blue color and the date of each Sunday of the year is stamped on the front.  And if that's not easy enough, our church has the ability to set up our weekly contributions online!  I love it!  I used to have my weekly contribution set up online....that is, until I had to start using the envelopes.

Let me start here:

Jesus tells us that it's impossible to worship God and money (Luke 16:13).  Jesus says that we will love one and hate the other, or devote ourselves to one and detest the other.

I love God.  Obviously.  And I like to think of myself as a simple girl; don't get me wrong, I love a fancy pair of shoes and a well-made handbag, but you won't find me out there buying either one.  Several years ago you would've seen me in Nordstrom's with my credit card hot to the touch because I was using it so much, but that lead me to a path of destruction.

My husband is a firefighter and works crazy hard to provide an incredible life for me and our children.  He picks up extra shifts so that I can work part-time, we can take the kids to Disneyland (although not anymore because it's so dang expensive), my son can play year-round baseball, and my daughter can take dance classes, or painting classes, or whatever she's in the mood to try.  His job is not easy, despite what some may think.  He comes home after a 24 hour shift physically and mentally tired.  He may occasionally get a full four days off, but he's not himself until day four, and then he has to go back and do it again.

So, he likes to see where his hard earned money is going and what it is being used for - rightfully so.  He knows God, he acknowledges God, but he doesn't love God...yet.  And he definitely doesn't think we should be giving to God, because he views it as giving to the church, not to God.

This has been a crazy topic in our home and has been the source of many, many arguments.  So......I had a brilliant idea < *cough, cough* > that I would give to God....without telling my husband.  How could I be wrong with that?  I mean, I'm doing my biblical duty, I'm honoring God and all that He has given to me, so how could I be wrong?

For a whole year, I gave my weekly contribution to God through the online service our church provides.  For years before that, I was the only one who handled our finances.  For years before that, I vowed to tithe based on my gross income.  I even increased my tithe when I got a raise.  And every Sunday I felt good watching the collection plate pass my hands knowing that the next morning I would see the deduction from my checking account.  For years, I tricked myself into believing I was doing the right thing.

And then one night we sat down with a couple from church who have been our closest friends for many years.  We were discussing finances (the conversation was going decently well; I was being called out on a lot of sin, but my husband was being given pointers as well), and just when I thought the conversation was over because the four of us were laughing and cleaning up dinner, it quickly turned on me when I said, "well, there is one more thing...."  However, I said this statement with such confidence because I believed my church-going, God-loving friends would sign up on Team Jenn right away.

"Tithe.  I give each week to the church.  [My husband] doesn't know about that.  BUT!  I don't base my tithe off the household income, only mine."  I smiled the whole time I said this.  I was so proud of myself for being so sacrificial with my money.  I couldn't wait to hear them applaud me and tell my husband that it's my duty to give back to God.

That's not what happened.

I was sitting next to my best friend and across from her husband.  Nobody laughed.  Nobody smiled.  In fact, it was dead silent.  The next words spoken were from her husband, "what else, Jenn? What else are you hiding?"  Tears instantly sprang to my eyes.  I was confused.  Where was the Team Jenn flag he was supposed to be waving?  I looked to my best friend.  She wouldn't even look at me.  I started to defend myself, defend my actions, justify that I was doing the right thing.

"My husband doesn't want me to give to the church!  But I have to!  What am I supposed to do?"

For the next several, lengthy, torturous minutes (ok, I'm exaggerating, it wasn't exactly torture), it was explained to me why it was wrong.

It's never wrong to give to God.  Ever.  Let's clarify that.

The wrong was in my deceit.  My husband had no idea I was giving to the church.  On the occasional Sundays that he would join me, he never asked me about contribution because he didn't know that we could give our contribution online.  He assumed that I didn't give to the church...and I let him assume that.

Aside from deceit, without realizing it, I was separating our money.  My husband is so generous.  He works so hard and allows that extra money to go towards something we want to do as a family...or, he puts it towards debt I incurred over years and pays off all our debt.  All that money that he earned as he watched a man die in front of him, as he pulled a lifeless child out of a swimming pool, as he cut apart a car to rescue a young girl, as he risked his life on top of a burning building...all that money that was earned through his emotional sacrifice, he allows to be used as our family needs for "extras" in life.

And yet, I was taking my money and doing what I wanted with it.  Without asking him.  Without telling him.  Because I assumed I was doing the right thing.

The day after we spent time with our friends, we sat down and went through all of our bills and set up a brand new, beautiful budget (that's coming up in a future blog).  There was only one thing missing:  he didn't allow for contribution to the church.  Nowhere in our budget were the words "church" or "God."  I didn't say anything, I wanted to let my husband lead this conversation.

A couple hours later I called my best friend: "I don't know what to do, he didn't allow room for a contribution!  I can't do that!  What am I supposed to do??"  She asked me if I was given an "allowance" in the budget (this is the money that I'm given each week to use however I wish - no questions asked).  My husband budgeted for each of us to have a weekly allowance of $40 (sounds like a lot until you realize how many times you eat out, how many coffees you buy or how long it takes to save for a haircut).

My best friend said to me, "perfect!  So tithe off of your allowance each week!"
Me:  "What?  I can't do that!  Only $4 each week?  Are you kidding me?"
Righteous Bestie:  "Absolutely!  That is yours, God knows you can do anything you want with it - so why not tithe off that?"

I felt so much guilt about the idea of giving only $4 each week to God.  There was no way I could ever live with that.  So, the next night at church I pulled aside the minister's wife.  I explained to her what was going on, how I had been deceiving my husband and my plan to repent, but now I didn't know what to do about tithe.  I told her about my bestie's suggestion and asked for her advice.  She laughed, smiled, hugged me so tightly and said, "I think that's a great idea."  I must have looked at her like she was crazy because she laughed again and followed it up with the most beautiful reminder, "God isn't worried about how much you give from your wallet, He's only concerned about how much you give from your heart."  I felt instant relief pouring over my shoulders.

She reminded me that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), not necessarily a rich giver.  She said, "God is more fired up about the fact that your heart is aching to give him more, but you are giving him what you can. You have an allowance that you can use for anything you want, but you want to make sure you give to God.  That's awesome!  That's what He wants!  You can revisit the topic of contribution with your husband later, but for now, I think giving from your allowance is an awesome idea."

That night I church, I went to the table and asked for a box of envelopes.  There was something about the way that box felt in my hands.  Suddenly I realized that it truly was in my heart to give to God.  I didn't think of it as a duty or a bill I had to pay.

I wanted to give to Him because I love Him.  Because I'm grateful for all that He has given to me.  And that was all that mattered.

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  'Truly I tell you,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.Luke 21:1-4

It's not about the dollar amount.  It's all about the heart.

My husband knows that I give to God each week.

What he doesn't know is that every week, as I write my name on the outside of that envelope, and place four $1 bills inside, I thank him for allowing me the opportunity to give to God with my heart.

My husband, without meaning to, has taught me a lesson about giving to God...he taught me to have the heart of the widow.


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