Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Money Pit

The subject of money always seems to put a tiny pit in my stomach, and makes my shoulders feel a bit tense. I am not the most organized, detail-oriented person in the world, and things like budgets, and remembering that little bill on the bottom of the stack of mail are not usually the things floating around at the front of my brain. Just the mention of credit cards and auto loans used to be enough to put me into a cold sweat. Lucky for me, I married a man who is fantastic with money-- saving it, watching it, remembering to spend it on things like phone bills, etc-- so now, my cold sweats have been reduced to the aforementioned tiny pit in my stomach.

When you dig a little deeper into that tense subject of money, into the area we call Charity, Giving, or Tithing, I get a little more anxious. You see, we have to raise our entire income on the gifts & donations of other people-- from health care, to travel expenses, conferences to retirement, we have to get out there & find people who believe in what we do enough to buy us lunch (and breakfast, and dinner). And since that hasn't been going very well for the past... oh, seven years, I've developed a funny Love-Hate relationship with Giving.

I was reading lately about the story of the Israelites wandering through the dessert, eating mannah, which magically appeared on the ground every morning. The story goes that God provided the mannah-- just enough for the people to eat-- but didn't allow it to be saved for the next day. He wanted his people to trust him daily for food, rather than gather it, store it, and feel secure, knowing that they had a few days of security in their hands. It was his way of saying, Trust me. I've got this covered. I'm not going to forget your breakfast. Don't get caught up in fear & greed & self-reliance-- I've got you.

I read that there is a crucial distinction between abundance-- a fearful response to scarcity-- and sufficiency-- which evokes an experience of satisfaction and well-being. The Israelites always had a sufficient amount of mannah each day-- none of them ever went hungry or needed more. But they wanted an abundance, to provide the security of knowing that just in case something happened tomorrow, they would have more than enough.

Okay, okay, I'm done with the Bible lesson (everyone make it out alright?). What I am really thinking about are the boxes of baby clothes we've got in the garage. The clothes that were given to us, out of the generosity & abundance of friends & family. I think I have bought two or three shirts, pants or shoes for my lil' guy that didn't come from a consignment store, a bag of hand-me-downs, or a gift. And that guy is better dressed than I could ever hope to be. But I'm afraid that when we adopt our little girl, we may not have enough-- and so I hold on to all those boxes.

And my mind also drifts back to a conversation Chris & I had about our budget a few days ago, as we calculated how much of our income would go to charity. It was an uncomfortable conversation, slicing up the money we have been given, and determining how much we could "afford" to give back. Finally, we put down a number that was technically acceptable, but felt embarrassingly small, saying we would come back to it later.

But reading about the mannah put that weird pit in my stomach again. Fear, anxiety, and that squirmy, uncomfortable feeling called Conscience started creeping up my spine, and I saw that I am going about the whole thing wrong. In the twelve years that I have lived off of other people's generosity and God's provision, I have never once gone hungry, been unable to pay our rent, or lacked for anything I have really needed (although we've had some really close shaves). And yet my abundance has not produced a feel of sufficiency, but a feeling of scarcity, and a desire to hold, hoard, grab, and scrimp. I have a home that was literally given to us, a car that was also given to us, a garage full of baby clothes that were given to us... and in our need for more funding, I am holding a fear-induced death grip on our money and our things. I want and I pray for God to give generously to us, and when he does, I am absolutely filled with anxiety at the thought of giving back.

In the story of the mannah, the magical bread actually turned maggoty when they tried to hold on to it overnight. And I'm afraid the same thing might just happen to me. So (it embarrasses me to admit how hard this is for me), I think I have two steps to take, now. First, I need to clean out our closets, and take a trip to Good Will. Just let go, and trust that we will have enough. Second, I need to spend some time praying about where we are supposed to give our money & how much we should give, and make our budget from there-- not the other way around.

I might even add a third step in there, of (man, I hate this one) praying for opportunities to give generously to others. I was talking on this subject to a group of moms, and one of them mentioned that one day, her mother in law had no couch in her living room. "Someone needed a couch, so I gave her mine" was the simple response to the inquiry. My first thought was, "I love my couch. Please, God, don't ask me to give away my couch."

But I realize that the more we hold onto-- the more we collect and gather into our arms-- the less capable we are to receive something new, something better, even. We limp along in life, working so hard to carry our provisions along with us, when we are being provided for every step of the way. We are afraid to ask for big things, and we are afraid to give big things, because both require us to relinquish self reliance, and to simply trust. And trust is one of those things that is so very simple, and so very difficult as the same time. It invites us to put down our load, and walk freely & lightly... but it's that letting go that can be so very hard.


Samantha said...

Thanks for being so real, Christine! Yeah, isn't ironic how hard it is to loosen our grip on STUFF, when we so clearly live off God's generosity through people?

I wrestle with this, too, especially when we were cleaning out our apartment to go ICS; I wanted to bring SO much with us... or SELL things instead of giving them away, when most of the stuff was gifts to US in the first place!

Philip Scriber said...

Hi Christine! Sorry for the post, but I didn't know a better way to contact you. Mike Morrell and I really appreciate your blog, and think you'd be an excellent candidate for our Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it's free to join. Sign up here, if you'd like:

You're not on any contact lists, I promise; if you don't respond, that's it, and the invitation is open as long as you're actively blogging. Hope you join us!