There is enough: Financial practice as spiritual practice
March 18, 2020
“I’m thinking about giving up buying new things for Lent,” a clergy friend posted on Facebook recently. She went on to describe her desire to break the hold of consumerism over her life. It’s a fitting focus for this wilderness season when we, like Jesus, strive to re-center God in the face of the world’s temptations. The hope and intention of many Lenten sacrifices is that this seasonal experiment will have lasting effects—that by Easter morning, a new practice will have formed.
In my work with clergy and lay leaders developing financial literacy through the In Support of Excellence program (funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.), I emphasize that financial well-being is not simply what we know about money; it’s equally important what we do with what we know. Navigating radically different economies—God’s and the world’s—calls for continual attention to our money practices, and treating this as a spiritual exercise has been a meaningful approach for me and (I hope!) for those engaged in the program.
I am increasingly drawn to this idea of spiritual practice—that living in the way of Jesus is about daily choices and actions rather than the attainment of a perfect faith. Similarly, I believe the call of economic discipleship, to follow Jesus with all our resources, is about the everyday lived experience of discerning and acting—not an eventual arrival at either perfect prosperity or perfect association with those who are poor.
I’ve been compiling some of my “financial practice as spiritual practice” ideas, questions, and challenges, and I offer them here to begin a conversation with those who feel similarly called to this deep and life-changing work.
After many years of living a solvent financial life with a residual fear that “there’s never going to be enough,” I’m grateful to be forming a community that addresses money from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. I’ve been compiling some of my “financial practice as spiritual practice” ideas, questions, and challenges, and I offer them here to begin a conversation with those who feel similarly called to this deep and life-changing work.
- Create a ritual of gratitude—a prayer, a song, a physical movement or dance—for when you receive or give money. This Christmas my husband and I wrote on the tag of our family gift “From ABHMS and Mount Holyoke College [his employer].” It was a reminder to us and to our children that it is a gift to be engaged in work that we love and receive money for doing it!
- Establish a budget that has clear goals and priorities, including giving to God in and beyond the church. As you move through each day, week, and month with your budget, celebrate the “yes” of this plan, especially in moments when you decide “not at this time” to something that isn’t a priority. New to our budget this year is a line for “of the moment” requests—responding to natural disasters, helping friends in personal crisis, giving memorial gifts to honor a life. It’s a reminder that our giving is not necessarily about the tax benefit but about paying attention to the needs of the world and giving lovingly and responsively to neighbors near and far.
- If your income and expenses are not in alignment, consider if there are additional ways to use your gifts for additional income. For many pastors, occasional opportunities to write articles, provide funeral/wedding services for people who are unaffiliated with a church, or substitute teach can extend our offerings to the world while helping meet our financial needs.
- Share information with a generous spirit. If you have a spouse or partner, do they know your entire financial picture? Give any children or grandchildren in your care a realistic sense of how you make decisions about spending and what it would require to adjust this for a given opportunity or season. Tell the young adults in your life about your mistakes and missteps as well as what you’ve done well in managing your resources. They, too, will learn through practice and discover grace in the process.
- Seek forgiveness from any you have wronged financially and make restitution wherever possible, including confessing regularly about complicity in the significant economic inequality that plagues our planet. True repentance brings change—be open to how this prayer might reshape your financial life.
- Consider all your resources through the lens of stewardship. What care would you provide for your home if you imagined preparing it for future dwellers? How is your time and physical health a gift from God to offer with intention toward activities that matter? If money is not available for giving, what are other resources you can offer? How do we care individually and together for the abundant gift of Creation in our daily choices and actions?
- Become an informed consumer and investor, asking questions of those you have entrusted with your financial resources. Are there companies, practices, or products you do not wish to support or perpetuate, and do you spend and invest in ways consistent with this? Encourage investment managers to divest from industries that do harm to people and the planet while directing your own investments into funds designed for social good.
- Take steps to get your financial affairs in order for greater ease in daily life and to lessen the burden on loved ones upon your death. Have a will that meets the legal requirements of your state, and ensure those nearest to you know the details of your intentions. It is an extraordinary offering to family and friends to have clear records with account numbers, passwords, and beneficiaries in a fireproof and/or safe deposit box. As you take steps to create order, picture the people who have access to this box. Focusing on those we love can help us face tasks that remind us that we are mortal—dust returning one day to dust. Establishing plans to care for those we love and invest in the community of God are one way that we ensure our memory and spirit will live on. It is a way of reminding ourselves and those we love that after Good Friday comes Easter.
During Lent and beyond, follow the example of the early church and practice in good company. We are called to association, to communion, and to discerning and practicing together. As often as you can, gather to sing songs, create art, and prepare meals that reflect one of my favorite “financial practice as spiritual practice” messages: “There is enough—enough, and some to share.” (Kerri Meyer, https://www.musicthatmakescommunity.org/there_is_enough)
Jennifer L. Sanborn is program director of In Support of Excellence—American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ financial-literacy program for clergy and lay leaders.