The Discipline of Money.

((from Natalie))

When we got married, my husband was a bit savings-obsessed. I, his opposite, was living for the moment. I had frequently drained my checking account between paychecks to buy a piece of art, help someone out, or fill my gas tank for a road-trip. He was pouring into the storehouse of his 401K, locked into a minimalist routine, and avoiding adventure.

We were both running on two very different hamster wheels, both victims of the culture we live in, and products of the families of our upbringing. If you looked at the books, one of us was living for the moment and instant-gratification, the other storing up for the future, but when it came to dollars – neither of us were fully living for God. It was a struggle when we first wed to find a healthy way to navigate financially. We both needed discipline, in two very different forms.

If finding discipline in your financial life is a struggle, first of all, you aren’t alone.  Secondly, may I refer you to our best financial advisor? Luckily, His advice is free.

About forty percent of Jesus’ parables were about finances. There’s a reason that Jesus advised about money when He came: God knew we need(ed) His help. When we humbly allow God’s discretion over finances, we get great free advice from the One who has an eternity’s experience of managing resources.  Here’s just one example of Jesus’ advice:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. … No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

 That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

 And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:19-34 

For me, a clear turning point away from unhealthy spending and igniting discipline was when my husband charted out our expenditures as newlyweds. He made color-coded bar graphs and pie charts, meticulously detailing our monthly spending item by item. As a visual learner, I appreciated the charts, but the itemization felt like a lot of pressure. I began to doubt myself. I found myself calling my husband to make sure it was okay to grocery shop and ask how much I could spend. It was intense. But it opened my eyes. The exercise was a light that illuminated all of our spending, so that we could move forward with full knowledge and informed discretion. It also built trust. Over time, I was able to internalize the budget our family needed and he relaxed with the charts and graphs. I yielded to my husband’s financial leadership because I could clearly see he was being careful and attentive.

But this trusting has also required me to surrender some of my own ideas.

Our home has about half the square footage I would have wanted for a family of our size. My lonely passport stamp is from my sister’s wedding in Mexico. We drive used cars and the dents go unrepaired. We use an antenna to absorb a few television channels from the air. I tote a used phone, sport hand-me-down clothes, and shop with coupons.

Yet, I am living my dream.

I have more than enough.

I am content.

My needs are fulfilled.

I have the stay-at-home-mom job that I always wanted.

All of those statements are true. But if I’m honest, sometimes it’s still a battle to believe. I still worry about tomorrow, getting anxious if there’s not a trip scheduled on my calendar. I play the comparison game and drool over my friend’s vacation pictures from exotic faraway lands.

I imagine “storing up treasures”, and so I envy grand homes and scroll through the photos and feeds of dozens of interior designers. I worry about clothes, sometimes wishing my wardrobe reflected the sense of style depicted on my Pinterest board instead of what I pulled off of a clearance rack.

I don’t have it all, because I have a call. And because I have a call, it’s much easier to prioritize and mobilize my spending towards what God wants for us instead of what American consumerist economy tells me I’m entitled to. The smaller house, buying used, shopping with coupons – all are discipline choices made consciously to live below our means. The marketing campaigns of our popular culture do everything to get us all to do the opposite.  But, if we lived at the edge or beyond our means, we would’ve had to miss out on some exciting things God called us to invest in.

My husband had a very different turning point and a different kind of trust to surrender to. For him, the change toward healthier discipline came with the advent of tithing, and a regular commitment to giving. Culture has led him to believe that we need to see where our dollars are and where they are going, at all times. Would anyone invest in the stock market if there wasn’t a quantifiable measurement for its’ growth/decline?  Probably not, but the discipline of giving anonymously or without expectation to the cause of love unlocked new freedom for my husband and thus for our family.

Experiencing the private joy of imagining treasures in heaven instead of amassing treasures on earth has allowed us to loosen our grip and relax.  As this change occurred, I got to witness his transformation from a stressed saver to a blessed giver, invested in the lasting legacy of God’s work.

Today, I feel my worth is not based on what I can do for others but instead on what He has done for me.  And my husband would say his value is not determined by commas in a savings account, but by the value given to him by Christ Jesus.

If hope is hard for you when it comes to money, I’m here to encourage you.  Where you are now, the financial hamster wheel you find yourself on, it doesn’t have to spin permanently.  With discipline inspired by God’s economics, growth and change can occur.  Start by pouring light into your finances, the light our God shines with the wisdom of His word.  Take a look at where your money is going; can you connect vulnerably to someone with financial smarts and share all the details of your budget?

And above all else, lay all you have been given before the discretion of God.
It’s all been His since the beginning.

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