Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay

You guys left some really thoughtful, really insightful comments on my previous post about charitable giving (I would expect nothing less from you smarty-pantses). Your comments have been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks, and have sparked some new ideas, so here’s a follow-up post, and I’m sorry if it rubs you the wrong way.

A couple of you expressed a similar point, and that’s that giving isn’t about me and my growth (or us and our growth), so much as it is about providing for the needs of others, and I have to admit, at first I was a little stung by the implication that I’m giving selfishly. But then I thought about it some more, and there’s a couple things I see happening:

  1. I didn’t explain my thoughts completely the first time. This is a bad habit for me. This might sound like a cop-out, but here it is: in my head, one idea expands into a giant web of interconnected ideas so quickly, that I rush though explaining how I got from point A to point B (and C, then D, then E), in favor of writing everything out as quickly as I can, lest I forget everything. The result is too many big ideas that lack sufficient background or explanation. I’m trying to improve in this area, but also, I want to keep my posts under 500 words, so….It’s a tough compromise.
  2. I bit my tongue, and censored myself, because I don’t want to piss anyone off, or alienate you wonderful people. I have some things to say about automatic giving, and I’m afraid of how it will be received. More on that in a moment.

That all being said, let’s do this thing.

To the point that “giving is about meeting a need, and has nothing to do with what get out of it:” I don’t think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving. An easy example of this is the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, wherein she gives far less amount-wise, but far more in terms of sacrifice. This shows her great faith and gratitude. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest, though in dollars, she gave a fraction of a penny. So when I talk about not giving “enough,” I don’t mean enough in terms of the dollar amount, but in terms of expressing my faith and gratitude. In this regard, my family is very much like the wealthy folks in that story, throwing in our excess money and not even thinking about it. And boy, is that humbling.

Giving is a Discipline. Disciplines Take Practice. (Maintain a Loose Grasp.)

Our nature (and this is strictly my opinion here) is to keep a firm grasp on what “belongs to us.” You can see this in children, who are reluctant or unwilling to share toys, out of fear that the toys will never be returned, and the feeling that those toys belong to them. I think grown-ups are kind of like that, only that we’ve learned to put a smile on, and share just enough to be socially acceptable.

Because of our very human inclination towards maintaining a tight grasp on our material possessions, I know that I need to practice giving. I need to practice putting my hand into my pocket, pulling out some money, extending it to another person, opening my hand, and not expecting a single thing in return. I need to practice remembering that none of what I have “belongs to me,” and I need to practice letting that understanding overcome my will, and my desire to give just enough to be socially in the black.

(Question I like to ask myself, to check-in on the state of my heart: “How tight is my grasp on “stuff” and money, right now?”)

Automatic Giving/ Auto-Tithing Stunts Our Spiritual Growth

Someone in the comments said that automatic giving is great, because it shows that I’m “disciplined” in my giving. I would argue that the opposite is true. It’s not “disciplined giving” if it’s automatically withdrawn. “Discipline,” by definition, results from training, and training takes effort and thought. (Interesting that “discipline” and “disciple” share the same root.)

Automatic giving/auto-tithing circumvents a spiritual process of recognizing that what I have is not really mine, and really only serves the legalistic purpose of meeting the bottom line. And like I said, I don’t think God is at all concerned with the bottom line. I think God can, and does, work miracles with even the smallest portion, given from a full and loving heart. (Loaves and fishes, for example.)

I think God is more concerned with the condition of my heart, than whether or not I’m giving a lot of dollars, and in that regard, giving is more about me than meeting a need. I think God wants me to go through that process every single time: saying thank you, counting my blessings, and giving what I can for the benefit of others. And I can’t do that if my church is automatically drafting tithes from my bank account. The very reason people use auto-tithe is because it simplifies the process, and they are assured that they’ll fulfill their giving obligation for the month. And I just don’t buy that line of reasoning.

(The pastor of the church my family used to attend would remind folks, in the weeks running up to summer, that they should consider enabling auto-tithing before they go on summer vacation, that way they don’t “forget to give.” This would always make my ears ring “so the money is more important than the act of worship?” Perhaps, rather than treating the symptoms (tithing slows to a trickle over the summer), we should treat the illness (congregants don’t understand giving)?

(Um. Also, how reverent is my worship when my automatic-tithe gets the same amount of my attention as my student-loan payment?)

Giving is an Antidote to Greed.

This one is pretty easy. Habitual, intentional giving breaks us of our habit of greed, and keeps us from tightening our grasp too much. And one of my favorite things Jesus said, can be found in Matthew 6:19-21 — “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Bingo. I’ve heard this said and re-said (“Want to know a person’s priorities? Take a look at their checkbook”) so many times over the years, and it is as true today as it was when Jesus said it.

Other Assorted Bits That I Can’t Be Bothered to Organize Right This Moment:

Giving is meant to be a joyful expression of thanks to God from the heart, and not a legalistic obligation.

Amy (in the comments of my previous post) said “I think sacrificial (truly joyful) giving comes from a truly thankful heart. If we come to understand that everything given us is completely unmerited, then I think GIVING then becomes a true act of worship. It’s not the amount…not at all…it’s our attitudes behind the gift.”

And now I’m 600 words over my self-imposed limit.

I hope you’re happy. 🙂 But seriously, I want to continue this conversation, because I think we’re beginning to touch on some really sensitive issues. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard anyone address finances in a church-setting (not counting Dave Ramsey), and I think there’s a lot of unresolved tension in this. Wanna sort this out with me? Lord knows I have more blind-spots than I can count. Say what’s on your mind in the comments, below.

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Let’s be friends!

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So This is Love? (Follow-up to 50 Shades of Magic Mike)

I’m sitting here at my computer, collecting my thoughts, and on the surface, everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday. Same feeling of disapproval when I look at my face in the mirror (explanation). Same anxiety about leaning into the words that have been put on my heart. Heck, I’m even drinking from the same coffee cup (I washed it, don’t worry).

But below the surface, I’m overwhelmed. I’m completely humbled by the incredible outpouring of love and support I’ve received from strangers.

You know, when I first sat down to get that 50 Shades/Magic Mike post out, I’m going to be honest: it felt as if I was unloading a burden. I didn’t write it so much to please God, as to get him off of my back. (I wish I could say I had more righteous intentions.) I put off writing it for several days, but whenever I’d sit down to blog, or work on my book, or email a friend, I couldn’t write the words I wanted to write, because the whole 50 Shades/MM thing kept bubbling up. So late one night, annoyed that I couldn’t get any “real” work done, I finally addressed the issue that had been niggling at me for the past week. And I am so glad that I did.

God is Proving a Point

It is interesting, how even in the community of believers, one can feel so alone. At least, that’s my experience. I didn’t see much purpose in writing that post, beyond showing God that I was willing to let him interrupt my plans, even though I didn’t see a real point in it. (Though I’m well-known in my field, outside the tech-world, I’m nobody special, so the its not like anyone was going to read it anyway.) And in hindsight, I wonder if God’s purpose for me wasn’t necessarily just to address the 50 Shades/MM issue, but to show me that I’m not alone. That there are sisters (and brothers) all around me, and that I don’t have to feel so isolated.

So thank you. And “thank you” are pretty measly words, compared to how I feel. I am so grateful to each of you who has extended herself/himself in support, and has encouraged me to continue saying “yes” to God’s “interruptions.” You have blessed me immensely, and God is using you to prove a point to me: I can trust that I am not alone. I can find community and love in a group of people who used to intimidate me. A group that I used to openly despise. (Maybe sometime I’ll talk about my pre-Christian life a bit. What a change.) That I’ve been adopted by such a father, into such a family, moves me to tears. What a beautiful, beautiful gift that I absolutely do not deserve.

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This is not to say that there has not been resistance. I knew when I wrote it that it was not going to please everyone (and would probably upset some), but should pleasing people be my primary concern? Like so many people, I place too much value in how others regard me, and I often prioritize others’ comfort to a fault. Saying “yes” to the words that were placed on my heart was a way of willfully pushing myself out of my comfort zone, recognizing my error in allowing others’ opinions of me to dictate my identity, and deciding to place my security in the opinion of my Father alone. And it was hard. And just because I did it one time, doesn’t mean that it’s over. I’m afraid and excited that in this regard, my journey has only just begun.

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Feel-goods aside, I’ve learned a lot from the spectrum of responses I’ve received.

  • We can turn nasty when our earthly desires are threatened.
  • We are prone to justifying behaviors to satisfy our ideas of what is good, rather than God’s.
  • Many people have said that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church.”

“It’s people like you that caused me to leave the church.”

That third point, “Many people claim that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church,”” is an interesting one. I can see a lot of myself in that statement. Like I said earlier, even in the community of believers, I often feel alone. There is a lot that bugs me about Christians; some of it is vestigial frustration from my pre-Christian experiences, but some of it is rooted in legitimate concern. Probably the greatest factor that has influenced me to stay in the church over the past several years is that at one point I realized that authentic faith is not rooted in one’s feelings about Christians; deep, meaningful, authentic faith is rooted in one’s love for God their Father. 

If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.

So to those of you who would say that being admonished by other believers is pushing you away from God, I encourage you to reorganize your priorities, and begin making decisions through the lens of God your Father. If you love God, seek after Him, and his will, and his purpose for your life. It will follow naturally that you will make decisions based on His approval alone. (Though that doesn’t make those decisions easy.) Once that becomes your new normal, I believe you will have a whole new perspective on admonishment from other believers.

God, The Dictator

If you’re trying to live under God without loving him, or without knowing his love for you, you’re missing out entirely, and you’re going to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. If you feel as if God your Father is demanding, and oppressive, and you’re constantly struggling to please him, you’re not getting it, and my prayer for you is that something will happen that will reveal God’s overwhelming love for you, because it will change your life.

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Thank you, again, for encouraging me, and for correcting me that sharing God’s truth doesn’t have to be “quick, like a bandaid,” (my words), but “loud, and clear, like a trumpet call” (words of a particularly inspiring commenter.

I love you. I really do. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that for our big, crazy, sometimes loud-mouthed family. (Even though there are a few of you that fall into the “crazy uncle” category, and a few of you who I’m SURE would argue with me about politics over the Thanksgiving turkey.) 🙂

So this is brotherly love, huh? It’s a whole new world.

Xoxo,

mj

Summer of 7: Stress Week, Day 2 of 7

The Summer of 7 Melissa Jenna GodseyThis week is not going how I envisioned it. Though looking back on it, I’m not sure what I was thinking? If I could go back in time and talk to myself last week I’d say something like “So let me get this straight. You’re going to stop everything you’re doing, 7 times a day, for a time of focused prayer? Sounds great, but what about when Ellie is smashing strawberries in her fists and rubbing it all over her face? Or when you your husband gets home from work, and you’re thrilled to see him? Will you simply hand Ellie over to him so you can have your focused prayer time?”

As lovely as the book “Seven Sacred Pauses” is, right now it is actually causing me more stress than I had before. That’s the opposite of what I was going for.

I enjoy the readings very much (though I’m not encountering them as deeply as I was hoping to), and I fully believe in praying throughout my day, but the thing is…I kind of already do that. No, I do not have alarms set on my phone called “The Wisdom Hour”  or “The Hour of Illumination” normally (hours from the book), but–at least for my stage in life right now–I like my usual prayer-life better.

I won’t say that I “pray continually” as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18) because I know that I don’t. But the idea of living in an uninterrupted spirit if prayer and gratefulness is one that I hold dear. And it’s that gratefulness for all things that keeps me relatively stress-free. What’s happening is that the “scheduled” prayers of “The Seven Sacred Pauses” are overwhelming me to the point that I’m not praying continually like usual.

A short story about how I learned to pray “continually:”

I really enjoy cleaning my house, but it has not always been this way. I used to hate it. Every dried-up spill I scrubbed, I’d imagine my husband carelessly spilling something on the floor, then choosing to let it sit there and dry up rather than bending down to wipe it up for himself. Every time I scrubbed the bluish goo mixed with shaving gunk from his bathroom sink, I’d see him in my mind’s eye, brushing his teeth, and then walking away from that disgusting mess without a second thought about it. Never once thinking “you know, if I just swished one tiny handful of warm water down the drain after I shaved or brushed my teeth, my wife would never have to scrub this blue gunk off of the sink again!” Every piece of dirty laundry on the floor. Every set of gunky fingerprints on the remote control. You get the idea. At the end of the day, I was fuming, but I never said a word about it.

But one day–I’m not sure why this happened–something just clicked in my head. Sometime in December of 2010, I think. As I was waiting for the dishwater to warm  up (I will only wash dishes in the hottest of water), I found my mind wandering to the mothers in Africa who have to walk miles to fetch their water. Water that I would never even think of cleaning my dishes with, let alone cooking with, because it’s so filthy. And there I was, frustrated to tears because my husband didn’t dump his food scraps into the trash AGAIN, while standing over my sink waiting for the clean, clear water to get hot enough to wash our dishes. POOR MELISSA. Cry me a fricking river.

Something inside me clicked, and I began to cry. (Also, you should know that until about August of 2009, I was not a crier. Maybe I’ll tell that story another time.) I cried because I felt ashamed at my self-centeredness, and my feelings of entitlement. I cried because I was angry that I was still so immature. I cried because it’s just not fair that so many people die because of lack of access to clean water, and here I am, letting so much of it rush down the drain because I don’t think it’s hot enough to wash my dishes. I cried because I was a spoiled brat, and it took me so. long. to see it.

Since then, I’m delighted on a daily basis with how many things I have to be grateful for. We’re blessed abundantly, and I’m not shy of thanking God every single time I notice something. No, my prayers are not sacred readings that I do at a dedicated time of day, but to me, my “dishwater” prayers are more sacred. God is changing my heart day by day, hour by hour, and every time I say “thank you Father for blessing me and my family with not one but THREE sinks to clean, all with hot and cold running water,” I feel my heart soften.

So while I will continue with “Seven Sacred Pauses,” I’m going to stop beating myself up when I feel like I have to rush through my readings because Ellie put a foreign object into her mouth, or dinner is burning, or whatever. Also, I’m recommitting to living in an unbroken spirit of prayer and thanksgiving. In celebration of getting my head right again, here are some prayers I’ve said today. Maybe you can identify .

(When I miss my husband and he’s away at work, or working later than usual) Father thank you for my Husband and all that he does for our family. Thank you for blessing him (and us) with a job, and one that he loves.

(When I feel want for some material thing. Lately it’s a digital camera, since Ellie broke my old one) Father, thank you providing for us no matter what our circumstances are. When I had Ellie, we knew that me staying home was what was best for us, at least for the first few years, but we were scared. You’ve provided above and beyond our needs, even though we’re basically living on one income. Thank you for blessing our lives so abundantly; please direct us in how we can share our abundance with others.

(When Ellie is being a stinker, or I’m feeling anxious for a “bigger” life) Father thank you for this incredible child. She’s the greatest blessing in my life, and we do not deserve her. Thank you for giving me all of this time with her- time that we’ll never get to do over again. Thank you for making me into a good mother for Ellie. If you never sought me and adopted me as your own, I’d be failing Ellie as a parent right now. Everything I know about love, and patience, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness I learned from you, because you show those to me every single day. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect those qualities onto Ellie, that she might see you in me, and grow up with you as her foundation.

(When I’m watering the garden, washing my hands, showering, doing the laundry, rinsing some fruit, flushing the toilet, etc. Basically whenever I’m using running water) Thank you Father for this amazing gift. Many (most?) people in the world do not have access to clean water, let alone clean water in their homes. As I use this gift, I’m thinking about all of those for whom obtaining clean water is a struggle, and my heart breaks for them, and I’m angry, Father. It’s not fair. Please continue stirring up a restlessness in me for those who need water, and lever let me forget this injustice. Please continue to show me how we can use our resources to bring them the basic building-block of human life.

This is just a few that I can remember off of the top of my head. Do you say tiny prayers throughout your day? What’s your most common one?

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