Most of you know that I am perfectly willing to give up my time and whatever talents I have to whatever God is calling me. But what you don’t know, when it comes to money, not so much. Giving money has always been difficult for me because of money issues when I was growing up.
Neither of my parents finished high school, and my dad was self-employed. In my Dad’s case, self-employed often meant unemployed, and, so, we were always short of money. Also, my father was quite a character with some very good, but also some very bad personality traits.
You’ve heard the term manic-depressive. Well my Dad was manic-manic. Both his good and bad moods were extreme and volatile. When he was upset about anything he turned into a rage-aholic, yelling and screaming with profanity at my mother, my brothers and me, and anyone else within earshot. Most of what he raged about had to do with money problems, which he usually blamed on others.
As a little boy, my father’s money problems and his raging about them terrified me. My earliest money-related memory was when I was three and I watched some strangers throwing all our possessions down the stairs outside our house. I didn’t understand it then, but they were evicting us for not paying our rent. Watching those men scared me half to death.
Many times I heard my father talking on the phone to the landlord, or utility company, or others about an overdue bill. I knew sometimes my father lied. Worse still, sometimes my Dad made me answer the phone or the front door and tell bill collectors that he wasn’t home or was out of town, when he wasn’t. I hated doing these things, and often I went to bed after an evening of my father’s rage full of fear and anxiety. What would we do if there weren’t enough money to pay the rent or buy food? And, in fact, when I was in first grade, there wasn’t enough money, and so we spent that year in public housing.
Because of these childhood experiences, I didn’t believe I could rely on my father or anyone else to provide for me, except myself. Because of what he always yelled about, I thought I was a burden and part of the problem. I knew I could count only on myself and thought I should contribute to the family’s finances. So, starting with a paper route when I was eight and ending with selling women’s shoes all during high school and college, I always worked after school, on weekends and during the summer. I became very self-reliant at a very young age, and working part-time when I wasn’t in school lessened my fears about money. When I earned my own money I was in control and I didn’t have to depend on anyone else.
I vowed that things would be different when I grew up. So I went to college for ten years and got three degrees, so that I could get a good paying job. I married Terry while I was in graduate school and our first child was born soon after I left college. Like many young couples, we were house-rich with a big mortgage, but cash-poor. Not a problem though, because I could always use one of my credit cards if cash was tight. Or so I thought. Using credit became a way of life, and soon I found myself with a mountain of debt.
My poor money management, which ironically I learned from my father, caused conflict between Terry and me. Credit cards had become a security blanket for me, but eventually Terry convinced me that we should take a pair of scissors to all our credit cards, which we did despite my fear and trembling. Because I was agnostic at the time, I didn’t know that faith and reliance on God provided much more peace and security than credit cards or any other alternative.
After we came to Apostles in 2001, I would regularly put checks into the offering basket, but not for very much, ‘cause I never knew how much I would need. Before long Terry started saying we should tithe, but I thought she was crazy - I couldn’t imagine giving that much. What if some unexpected need or emergency arose and we needed that money? I didn’t trust God for what we needed, and I was still afraid we would not have enough money – feeling just like I did when I was a scared little boy.
My solution was to offer God conditional tithing. So, at the end of each month, I’d see how much money was left over and then I’d give it, so long as it wasn’t more than 10 percent, of course. So most months, we gave less than ten percent, but at least I wasn’t afraid. I was still putting my need for my own security above obedience to God. I really didn’t get the whole tithing thing. Over time I started making enough money so that it was easy to give God 10 percent and yet, even though there was no sacrifice, I started to experience God’s blessing and peace that released me from my fear about giving.
But I was still in control – not God – and I found that out with the coming of the Destined for Joy campaign. That old pit in my stomach I felt as a child came back. Now God is also asking me to give up my retirement money on top of what we already give. That makes me worry that we will become paupers. How can I obey Him in this?
But Terry and I have prayed about it a LOT. She told me that she thought God was telling her an amount He wanted us to give, but she wouldn’t tell me how much. She said that if that is the amount we are to give that I would hear it too … even if I didn’t want to … and sure enough, I later heard the exact same amount from God that she had heard. This amount terrifies me, but I do believe in Him and I know He is in charge of everything. The unity and peace that Terry and I feel in this decision are a testimony to that. I do finally trust Him.
- Gary French