Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Christian Perspective on Money: Generosity

Money is a very difficult topic for me to talk about, but I feel obligated to talk about it. Money is a leading cause of friction in our society and often times the root of most serious conflicts. Money in and of itself is not bad, but it often leads us to make bad decisions and devalue the human person. We easily become attached to money and this can lead us on a very dangerous path.

When it comes to being generous with our gifts and more specifically about money, I am probably not the best example. Generosity is something that I personally struggle with and often times fail. You are probably a much more generous person than I am, and I hope to one day reach your level of generosity. I know that my lack of generosity stems from my own selfishness. According to biblical references we are called to tithe or give 10% of our earnings back to God. If you are anything like me you are probably thinking, 10%! How in the world can I possibly give 10% of my earnings? I have bills to pay and mouths to feed. I EARNED that money. Why must I now give it away? Before I answer these questions, let me start by defining money.

The dictionary definition of money is something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment. In our world, many essential goods and services require us to have money. In order to survive we must eat. In order to eat we must have food. In order to have food we must either grow food ourselves or purchase food from someone else who has food. In order to grow food ourselves we must have seeds, good soil, etc. We must have something to exchange in order to receive the food we need to live. This source of exchange is called money. Typically money has been in the form of paper or coins, but more frequently now money is a card or a bank account number.

In our world today, the value of a person in the eyes of many is based primarily on their material wealth or how much money they possess. You might be thinking well that’s a terrible thing to value a person based solely on their wealth, but believe it or not I think we are all guilty of this perception at least at some point in our lives. How often do we make decisions based on how it will benefit us personally? I would say that in most all cases we do whatever we believe will benefit us the most. This is not always a bad thing. For instance, if I believe that being closer to God is in my best interest and will benefit me the most, I will be attending mass frequently, praying fervently, and constantly asking God for forgiveness and for strength. These are good things. However, many times we believe that material wealth is in our best interest and although material wealth is not a sin in and of itself, a constant desire for more material wealth will often lead us down the wrong path.

When I was in college I worked as a valet at a horse track to help me pay for school and living expenses. It was a good job. I enjoyed working with my friends and I made pretty good money for a college kid. I would often observe the cars that chose to have valet service, and I found that my friends and I would often make judgments on the kind of tipper a person would be based on the vehicle they drove. I realize that I probably shouldn’t judge a person in this way, but I think that is the reality of how most of us think. I was doing what I said we must not do, valuing the person I was serving based on the amount of tip I expected them to give. Shame on me. So when we saw an old beat up car, my friends and I would frequently make the conclusion that this person was not wealthy and that they would not give a large tip. However, when someone pulled up in a nice car, all of us wanted to take care of this customer because we assumed that this person was wealthy and would give a generous tip. Again, shame on me. Do you know what is ironic? I found that often times the people who drove up in really nice cars often gave the same tip as the person in the old beat up car, and sometimes they didn’t give a tip at all! What did I think about this? Well to put it mildly, I didn’t think too highly of that person. I expected monetary exchange and I received little or nothing? I thought these people to be mighty selfish, and yet I failed to examine my own conscience and see how I was being just as selfish if not more so than these people. I also realized that the amount of money a person has does not equate to their level of generosity. Logic would suggest that the wealthy person would be more generous, but this is often not the case.

Most of us understand what money is and why it is necessary. However, very few of us see money for what it truly is: a gift. When I was a valet, I felt I earned a tip for my service. The tip was not a gift to me, it was my wage. I struggle with the idea of money being a gift, and perhaps you do too. However, if we accept that God made all things, how can we not accept that money is a gift? Our very existence is a gift from God, and by the very fact that He created all things, all good things are gifts from God. An argument may be made that those who work harder or whose skills are in higher demand deserve a higher salary than those less educated, less skilled, or have a poor work ethic. While each individual may not have the same economic impact, no individual is more or less valuable than another in God’s eyes. Monetary wealth is not a right. Our economic value is subjective and often at the discretion of our employer. At any time, our economic value to society could change. Our financial situation now may be far different than our financial situation 10 years from now. Our knowledge and skills may be valued much differently by different individuals or in different parts of the world or in different time periods. What we earn and what we are worth, in an economic sense, is subjective. Therefore, I believe that it is in our best interest to work hard and do the best job in whatever stage of life we are in and we will be rewarded for our good work. Instead of insisting that our salary is a reflection of what we deserve or earn or our value, perhaps we should see it as a blessing and a gift.

We usually like to claim all our possessions, money included. Most of us consider the money we receive as our possession that we may use as we see fit. However, when we see money as another gift from God, we are likely to be more open to generosity. I also believe that if we love God, we will be generous. God asks very little of us, and yet we are frequently so reluctant to give anything back to God. God is the source of all good things, and yet we rarely thank him for all that he has given to us. We might thank Him for life altering gifts, but we rarely thank him for the common gifts such as the sunshine or a smile from a baby. I don’t think that God is concerned with a mathematical equation to decipher what exactly is 10% of our earnings. I also don’t think that God requires that all 10% be given directly to the church. In the diocese of Atlanta, we are encouraged to give 5% to our parish, 1% to the archdiocese annual appeal, and 4% to charities of our choice. We should be sure to monitor the charities we give to and make sure that their mission is not contrary to essential church teachings and that they use the money wisely, but we should always give back to God willingly and cheerfully. I don’t know about you, but this is very difficult for me. I mean, I will give out of a sense of responsibility but I really am not always happy when writing that check. Think of all the other things I could do with that money!

Very few people I know like talking about our responsibility to be generous, especially our responsibility to give 10% of our earnings back to God through gifts to church or charities. In reality, most people fail to live up to this responsibility. I myself probably only give around 5% (the average Catholic gives 1.5%). I am a very frugal person and I am a very detailed person. I know my family expenses and I know our income. I do the math and I have a hard time calculating in my head how I can give 10% to church and charities and still be able to pay off all our monthly expenses. However, every time our family appears to be headed toward a financial crisis, we are blessed with financial gifts sometimes completely unexpectedly. While we must be responsible with our money and make sure that we take care of our family needs, we must also be very generous. Everything we have is a gift from God. When we love God and our neighbor, we will be generous. When we are generous, God will reward us.

God bless,



2 comments:

abound said...

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Joe said...

This is a really good post Mike. I really liked hearing your stories from when you were a valet parker.