Coffee with the Pastors is a recurring event where the pastors lay out, in very simple terms, what it means to be a part of Floris UMC. As a staff member, I have worked this program several times. In fact, I feel confident in my ability to recite the entire presentation. The message is constant. In order to be a true servant of Christ, you must commit to doing five things: worship, grow, serve, share and give. These pillars of Christian life are not new to me at all. And I happily and intentionally strive to adhere to all of themexcept for one. Regretfully, I suffer from FOG, or Fear of Giving.
FOG is something I rarely talk about. It’s sort of embarrassing for someone who considers herself to be relatively generous. For some reason, I decided to discuss it with Rev. Tom Berlin, lead pastor at Floris UMC. It actually slipped out of my mouth, like my subconscious mind was crying out for guidance. “I rarely give money. I can give away belongings, my time and my energy, but moneyit just makes me feel anxious!” Luckily, Tom happens to be a pastor who firmly believes that stewardship is life-changingfor the giver as well as the receiver. As a young adult, I have often relied on my parents to be responsible for the monetary giving at church. I have been waiting for the perfect moment to start giving on my own.
At first, my excuse for not giving was “when I finish college,” which then turned into, “when I get my own place,” which has now become “when my savings and emergency accounts reach a certain amount.” I have no idea what number I would have to see to feel perfectly comfortable. This timeline has been edging further and further away. In the meantime, I took vacations to other countries; purchased a brand new car (spoiler: not the best investment); and purchased a lot of clothing, food, artwork, candles, presents, concert tickets, makeup, nail appointments, yoga classes, jewelry, etc. Clearly, I have a little wiggle room in my budget. I live the millennial dream, sort of.
If you look up the words “millennial,” “twenty something” or “young adult” online, certain words and phrases crop up. “Entitled,” “narcissists,” “materialistic,” “self-absorbed,” “lazy” and the hyperbolic “worst generation yet” are some examples. In a lot of ways, these characterizations of people in their twenties and thirties has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we are really the first generation that will be less financially stable than our parents, we will hold on to those dollars! We are inheriting a country (and a world) with a very daunting job market and economic climate.
In both religious and secular settings, people in this age group are the least likely to give any money to charitable causes, even adjusting for income. Giving is scary because we are being told that we will be broke and miserable if we spend on others. This isn’t true, but this belief is very pervasive in our culture. This is FOG. We are in a FOG of pessimism, cynicism, doubt and helplessness. Millennials have demonstrated qualities unmatched by previous generations, including, but not limited to, advancing social justice issues, demonstrating high civic involvement, spearheading technological innovations and promoting cultural awareness. We care about what is happening in the world and want to change it for the better, just not by giving money. Those of us in a church are acutely aware of our biblical obligation to help others. For me, parting with money isn’t a problem per seit is reconciling my strong desire for material items with my desire to be more altruistic.
I read Tom’s book, “Defying Gravity,” in one sitting. If you feel like you are in a FOG-like state, check it out. Below are some thoughts I had after reading it and having a conversation with Tom:
- In order to give, you must set yourself up for generosity. This means reducing debt, taking care of basic needs and living within your means. It’s much harder to give when you are in a scarcity-focused mindset.
- Do some historical research. Think about your upbringing and what kind of ideas you have about giving. What were the early messages you absorbed?
- Figure out what you need and what you want. Actually create a list. If you can live six months to one year without it, you do not need
- Don’t rely on your self-control. Automatic withdrawals are really helpful.
- Change your mindset. Shifting from a “spender” to a “steward” adds a sense of biblical responsibility to the situation. Don’t actions feel different when you are in covenant with God? He is pleased by your generosity and willingness to help others.
- Anyone can give if you have a workable budget. Start small because every bit helps.
- Giving, like any other service, has an element of sacrifice. That’s the point!
- Test-drive generosity. You can start by putting aside a certain amount. Do not give it away immediately. Are you still able to afford things? If so, consider stewardship.
- Giving feels good. Just ask someone who gives happily. Generosity and kindness begets abundance. Find out what is really important to you, and watch your contribution change lives.
I pray that as I begin to settle into a habit of stewardship, things become clear to me, less foggy. I hope that my actions and spending reflect the things that really tug at my heart.