As children, we are like sponges, soaking up everything from our environment. Our experiences form our perceptions, beliefs and shapes our behavior. Parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, peers, the media, environmental events all influence us so that our basic understanding of the world and our habits are formed by the end of our 7th year. In the meantime, life begins to rub up against us and challenge our perceptions and beliefs. We usually resist incongruent experiences before we examine our beliefs and behavior because changing our life perspective and habits for the unknown can be uncomfortable—unless over time our original beliefs and behavior create a level of unpleasantness where we realize a change is in order. We learn faith partially by allowing ourselves to walk through the fear holding us to our attachments to people, places, objects and beliefs that hinder us—and Then let go of beliefs and behaviors which no longer serve us to embrace a new way of seeing, believing and acting in the world.
I may have mentioned some of my experience of stewardship before. I was reminded at clergy conference that sometimes we have to hear something 20 times for us to remember and integrate it into our lives. Stewardship of my time and talent has never been a problem for me. I was blessed with a hunger for learning and sharing what I learn. After my graduation from high school I have been involved for at least 24 years in formal education: learning amassing various knowledge and skill sets to enhance my life as a priest and a human being to be able to serve humanity. Sharing time and talents has been a joy and relatively easy for me. Part of my stewardship of treasure has involved investing thousands in these educational endeavors of self-development. In other ways, stewardship of treasure has been more challenging for me.
Church was an early influence that shaped my perceptions, beliefs and behavior. Church was like my second home, a place where I belonged. My dad took me there often and I helped him with various chores around the church. We had a living creche in Advent where we constructed the frame and built walls with bales of straw. We also had to catch the animals for the creche which was a whole lot of fun. Then we took turns dressing up as Mary, Joseph, and shepherds standing in the creche under the evening lights. Sunday evening of the 4th Sunday of Advent we would sing carols and listened to Luke’s birth narrative. I have many warm memories of my childhood. We were given small children’s envelopes with our very own number on them. We put our quarter into them every Sunday that our parents gave us. It was fun giving my offering—I felt a part of the community of giving. During all these wonderful formation experiences there was another environmental current affecting me.
I will preface this with the fact that no one is perfect, including parents: and this has no effect on how much I love and respect my parents. My mother was a product of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and my brother heard numerous stories over and over such as how they scraped by eating beans and wearing hand me down clothes. I didn’t like Brussel Sprouts at that time and I was constantly reminded of the poor starving people in China who had nothing to eat. There were other incidents woven though my early years which transmitted my mother’s anxiety and belief of scarcity into my mind and life’s outlook. Since then, my studies have revealed that anxiety is transmuted from parent to child—even in utero and children absorb our emotional states because they have no identity to differentiate from their parents.
After leaving home, I began to make my own money and my own bills. It had been easy to put the quarter in the envelope as a child because my parents gave it to me. But now, I had to figure out how much went where. Stewardship at the time was a low key endeavor. One gave to the church to keep the doors open. There was a disconnect between stewardship and faith formation. Then came marriage, children, and the increased fiscal challenges that come with it. The following is a fact of life and not a complaint: While in suburbia, I learned that one of the challenges of running a clergy household is that most church members have a much higher income. It was difficult to participate in some activities because we couldn’t afford to keep up with the level of their lifestyle and there were many times where we overspent our budget in order to participate. Relocating to another church can also be costly. When we sold the first home we bought, we lost all the equity we put into it due to a slump in the housing market. By this time the church began to teach about stewardship as proportionate giving, working toward the tithe.
There were many years when I had a lump in my throat due to the fear of how could I manage to be faithful without going into debt. This is when we learned to set priorities. During those few difficult years, we still looked at our income and stewardship proportionately and had to back up our percentage of giving a couple of times. But each year we’d bump it up another percentage point. However, the core issue for me throughout was the parental infused anxiety birthed in my belief in scarcity and fear that God would not provide. My head knew the theology of God granting us abundance. But my mind and feelings feared that we just might not have enough. Relocating to Luling was a blessing. Fiscal changes involved higher taxes and real estate costs, going from no mortgage to having one, Kathy moving from full time to part time work and my change from two income sources to one.
What’s really important to me in this is not the money itself but transcending the fear that plagued my life in the past to be given a heart of gratitude in its place. So this year we will step up a percentage point to 8.2%. The fear still raises its head periodically, but the decision to move through the fear by acting in faith has helped to dissolve it. Peter walked on the water toward Jesus until he began thinking too much and sank due to his fear. Reviewing the salvation of history of God working in my life has also helped me realize that we have been carried this far and God has never let us down. Reviewing one’s salvation history is a powerful antidote to fear. Being delivered from fear into freedom is a part of salvation. I have learned that I need to give in order to discover my identity as a child of God and as a co-creator with God—in order to know in the words of St. Paul: “whose love and service is perfect freedom.”
Will you join me in walking the path of stewardship as a spiritual practice?