Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be standing in front of a congregation at a Catholic church, giving witness on stewardship, of all things! I didn’t even grow up going to church, and at one point in my life, I questioned whether or not I believed in God. I was content with my clever thinking and simplistic ideology that I could spout off if someone asked me what I believed. I would say that “I’m content with whatever is true, whether there is a God or isn’t a God, because whatever is true has always been true and will always be true, and I have no control over it.” I was also another person who looked at all the turmoil in the world caused by religion and became very apathetic to it all.
I’ve changed a lot since then. More like transformed. Okay, you can say converted, if you waaaaant. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with my faith. All. The. Time. But now, when I struggle, I pray.
The Mr. and I were asked to give the witness talk on stewardship last Sunday at our parish. Talking about my faith has never been a comfortable thing for me, but I’m learning that Christianity doesn’t always call me to be comfortable. Of course we were nervous, as the word ‘stewardship’ sometimes invokes uncomfortable feelings and makes people squirm in their seat, or stare blankly at the wall, or think “Oh…is this the time of the year when the church asks for money? Aaaaand you lost me.”
Of course, I overprepared and wrote about 6 pages worth of information, stories and anecdotes (word vomit), which of course would have been way too long, that even I would start tuning out. So I cut out it down to three pages, erasing many quotes and extra ‘filler’ stories and what was left was a lot of deep, personal information about my decision to be baptized Catholic, and the love I have for my family. I do not enjoy talking about myself (although, ironically, that is mostly all I have done so far on this blog…yikes!). So I tried very hard to cut it down to the most important ‘relatable’ (whatever that means) stories that tie into stewardship.
The Mr. and I prayed over this talk, and now I’d like to share it with you. You will learn a little bit more about my family and my faith, and hopefully, about stewardship, and yourself.
This is what we humbly presented to the congregation (my husband spoke first):
STEWARDSHIP WITNESS 2015
THE MR: Good Evening/Morning
You might recognize us as one of the couples rushing into our seats right behind you at mass with the crying toddler. Or you might recognize Whittney from singing in the choir at 10:30 Masses. I’ll begin with one caveat- many of us would rather speak than sing. Funny thing is, Whittney would rather sing to you all than speak! I would rather not speak in front of a crowd at all!
Now, here is a little bit about ourselves. Whittney and I moved to the Dayton, Ohio area in 2013 from Phoenix, Arizona. In 2012, I graduated with my Ph. D and God blessed us with a job as an engineer. Getting this job was difficult and seemingly impossible in many ways and so, we’re very grateful to God for this great opportunity. I ask Him every day to help me be a good Steward of this gift.
Before we say anything else, please know that we definitely do not consider ourselves the “Stewards of the Year”. When our friend asked us to give witness to stewardship this year, at first I was surprised, then a little hesitant. I thought…Wow! You want us? Really? So, Whittney and I talked about it and decided to accept the invitation.
We are not the best example of stewardship, as we definitely struggle with it too, but we are simply here as witnesses. We are not going to be telling you anything that you probably don’t already know. However, we find that we need to be reminded from time to time in order to refocus and re-center ourselves. Now, don’t think they just let us stand here without any preparation. We were given some information to read and it was recommended that we pray in order to understand what God wants us to say.
So…what is stewardship?
Most of us think of it as giving of your Time, Talent and Treasure. Here is the definition of stewardship from the documents we were given: “Stewardship is more than just giving money. It is a way of life that recognizes God’s abundance, trusts in God’s love, and responds by returning those gifts in every facet of life”. Here is what stood out for me from this definition: Stewardship is a way of life. It is more than a thought or action that happens once a week, but it is about seeing the love of God in everything we experience: His provision in every paycheck, His love in the time we spend with our loved ones, and so much more. The idea here is to focus on Christ, trusting that He will provide for all of our needs, be it financial needs, time, and He will do it in abundance.
The commitment to be Christ-centered instead of self-centered can be less difficult in some areas of our lives than others. For example, I trust God will provide for all of our material needs, so most of the time tithing is something I can freely do. I tend to be more selfish (self-centered) with my time. Whittney tends to think the opposite way. But seriously, God’s abundance is not only financial. Even though we all have 24 hours in a day, the Lord can make our days fruitful, so that after coming home back from work, and finishing all the items on our “Honey-Do” list, we will find that we still have time left to rest!
(And here is where we switched) WHITTNEY (a.k.a. ME):
While my husband was brought up Catholic, I was not raised in any particular faith. I have only recently become Catholic, and went through RCIA here at St. Helen’s. There are many reasons why I decided to become Catholic, but the most important reasons were (at the time) my unborn daughter and my husband.
Before I even knew what stewardship was, my husband was a steward of me. He never pushed me to go to church, but invited me to go every Saturday evening. It got to be where I just wanted to be with him and so, I ended up going. I am so thankful that he opened my eyes and my heart to let the Holy Spirit in and transform me. When I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, my path became even more clear. I started doing things I never thought I’d do (including being a stay-at-home Mom), because for me, my pathway had been lit. And it is NOT the pathway that I had planned for myself, but a much more fulfilling one.
I was so over-the-moon happy and in love, and when I looked at my life, and how far I had come, it hit me overwhelmingly. This amazing GIFT of love and of motherhood, this responsibility given to me, the trust that God has put in me to guide my daughter back to him. I wanted her to grow up with faith, in a supportive community. Looking at her after she was born, I couldn’t believe I could love someone so much, and how I would do anything for her. I knew that I could easily make the ultimate sacrifice and give up my life for her. This was a new, incredibly deep feeling I hadn’t experienced before. One that was SO DEEP and SO PROFOUND and SO POWERFUL, and honestly, a little frightening. I wanted to give her my all. In that moment, I thought, “Lightbulb! I get it, God!”
God was showing me just a glimpse of how He loves us, as His children.
Reflecting on His love made me very thankful for all the blessings in my life and made it easy for me to be motivated to be responsible with God’s gifts. This type of stewardship came to me easily because it is much easier to give freely out of love, than out of some form of obligation, anxiety or fear.
Christ first, then everything else.
So, I decided to join RCIA, become baptized, and I even joined the choir here at St. Helen’s to use my voice to praise God. God does more than just supply us with gifts, however. God is always teaching us and growing us.
We’ve all heard it before; you can’t take it with you when you go, or as my Papa might have said, “in heaven, ain’t no beer; gotta drink it here”. (Ha!) Well here’s what I have learned about stewardship:
- It affects every aspect of life, and as my husband said, it is a WAY of life.
- You have more gifts than you think you do, and you are probably a better steward than you think.
- Anything you’ve given or done to help someone sincerely- can be a form of stewardship.
- It is not done for reward, for attention, for praise.
- You have to be present; that is our challenge.
- You have to also be a steward of yourself by taking care of yourself, physically and mentally.
- Stewardship involves planning, especially financial planning, and taking time to think about how best to use God’s gifts. For some of us, that means working our way toward financial peace.
- It is also about ACCEPTING gifts or help from others as well. We think that to be responsible stewards, we have to learn how to be giving, but we forget about accepting gifts, which can sometimes be much harder than giving.
- Stewardship can be sacrificial. That could also mean sacrificing an old part of yourself, your life that may be getting in the way of Christ’s love.
- Ultimately, stewardship comes from a place of LOVE and thankfulness, and gifts must be given freely, or they mean nothing.
At times we all have feelings or concerns such as,“I have nothing left to give,” or “I am giving enough already.” However, the challenge for all of us is to question whether or not we are giving from our “first fruits”–giving from the top–or whether we are giving from what’s left…or whether we are giving anything at all. That is a question each of us must answer for ourselves; we are the only ones who know our own realities. You also might say, “What about me? I don’t have any talents, I don’t have the time, or money to give. You can’t pour from an empty cup.”….And I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. However, writer Steve Maraboli, wrote that,
“The bank of love is never bankrupt.” (from Life, the Truth, and Being Free).
If you don’t recognize that quote, maybe you’ll recognize this excerpt from In the Bleak Midwinter by famed Catholic poet Christina Rossetti (c. 1872)
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
If we could only center ourselves in Christ, our paths would become much clearer. We could look at all God has given us, and how often we take it for granted. If you want to REALLY reflect on all that God has given us, and done for us, or if you ever need a reminder, start by looking here (at the cross). How many times have I come into Mass, rushing into my seat and focusing on what’s going on around me, and getting my kid to behave, or getting my music prepared, and not even take a second to look at the cross. “Some of the most beautiful gifts come wrapped in a crown of thorns.” So when you think you don’t have anything to give, just remember this one thing. God gave his only son, Jesus, who died for us all, so that we can live. So the truth is not that we don’t have enough to give, but that we have EVERYTHING to give. Because EVERYTHING we have is from God.
In closing, many of us already give so much. But, there is no limit on what we give, how often we give, or how much we give to God. We’ll end with this short story about a faithful millionaire:
“I’m a millionaire,” the boastful parishioner testified, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday:
I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I had only a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give all I had to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”
The congregation applauded, and as he took his seat a little old lady rose and said,
“I dare you to do it again!”
Thank you, dear readers. Now-
“Go forth and set the world on fire”. – St. Ignatius Loyola