Living Faith: ‘Almsgiving’ brings faith and money together ahead of Lent
By Roxane B. Salonen
In the remarks section of my report card in second grade, my teacher wrote, “Still uses fingers to add and subtract.”
Despite my father’s encouragement, numbers have remained an elusive challenge to me.
For the most part, I’ve gotten around it by focusing on my strengths in letters and confronting numbers only when necessary.
A reading assignment recently led me to a book that has me rethinking my relationship with numbers, and money in particular, especially in matters of faith.
“Why Enough is Never Enough: Overcoming Worries About Money,” by local author and development consultant Gregory S. Jeffrey, has gently lured me to the numbers I so dread, showing me they are as much a matter of the heart as the head.
Early in his career as a consultant, Jeffrey discovered money is every bit as foreboding a social topic as religion and politics.
In asking for money, he found that a room of businesspeople often turns into a confessional of sorts. The discussion of money or business is only a starting point, he notes.
From there, the heart opens up.
“I go into an executive’s office to ask for support of a charity, and the next thing I know we’re talking about his marital troubles, an estranged son, or a daughter’s cancer,” Jeffrey writes. “It’s amazing how many facets of life are touched by money.”
Jeffrey has a theory: that we’re inclined to sidestep intimate conversations about money precisely because they lead to other sensitive areas of life – some that may be in need of healing.
Making peace with money ultimately leads to making peace with God, according to Jeffrey, because the underlying attitude that must precede a healthy approach toward money “animates a spirit of generosity.”
That’s where faith comes in. As people of faith, we are admonished to give alms as part of our mission, to relieve the burdens of the poor through sharing our material goods.
I found Jeffrey’s thoughts fascinating, especially the idea that giving is a spiritual act. He challenges those who give to charity as an investment, saying that this approach debases giving.
Giving alms is spiritual, Jeffrey says, because it is inherently “a response to the invitation of grace.” He challenges us to “look inward to discover the invitation to generosity God has written on the human heart.”
Though giving as an investment may offer us temporary satisfaction, by allowing God to first examine us, then asking him to lead our decisions, Jeffrey says, we will find liberating joy.
This is important, especially in our American culture, where we find an abundance of financial anxiety.
“Persistent worries about money are a weight that millions live with every day, sapping the joy of life,” he says, adding, “This is not how our Creator intended us to live.”
All are invited into the true spirit of almsgiving – not just the wealthy.
Jeffrey says that generosity, especially when our finances seem tight, requires faith that God will care for our material needs.
In other words, it becomes an act of surrender.
“Eventually, with eyes fixed on God, he frees us of constant financial anxiety,” he says.
With Lent around the corner, with its almsgiving focus, I am especially grateful for the timing of Jeffrey’s insight.
I might not be inviting numbers over for regular playdates, but at the very least, I’m now looking at them as a prospective friend.
Just don’t expect me to abandon my calculator or finger-counting. We all have our limits.