What Stewardship Looks Like
by Jeanette Hanscome
I’d taken our church’s financial class because a friend invited me to join her and gain some tools as I rebuilt my life after divorce. My youngest son and I lived with my parents, so I had few bills other than what I paid them and basic living expenses. I didn’t even have a car to maintain. (I’m visually impaired and can’t drive.) But every time I looked at the budget worksheets and heard words like stewardship, my heart raced. That’s when I recognized why I really needed to be in the class: money had become a major source of stress and fear, and that was not helping me become a better steward of it.
Finances had been tight for my entire 22 ½-year marriage, even with two of us working. When my husband started having health problems, we nearly drowned in the bills despite help from our church and parents and me working more than ever. Money had a frustrating way of disappearing. It turned out that medical bills weren’t the only things draining our funds—my husband’s spending uncovered much deeper issues than health problems. Ultimately, he left me with a crushed heart and overwhelming debt.
I was literally starting over, and on a feast-or-famine freelancer’s income. After over two decades in a situation that made budgeting a losing battle, I didn’t even know what good stewardship was supposed to look like, only that for the first time in my adult life I had the freedom to determine where my hard-earned paychecks went.
But it all felt so daunting!
Until I learned to see that unwanted bankruptcy as a clean slate, and my living situation as a chance to regroup. As I listened to my classmates’ stories and shared mine, I recognized something: I knew what stewardship looked like! Wasn’t it just being responsible with money?
Years of financial stress had forced me to become frugal and resourceful. Since becoming a single mom, I’d discovered that I could make a small paycheck go a long way. I’d even managed to save a little. Now, I needed to take stewardship a step further, and start tithing consistently, plan for the future and make necessary purchases without panicking inside.
Since then, I’ve continued to draw on lessons learned as a newly-single mom trying to regain her balance.
Here are a few things that have helped me.
Do what works for your situation. The financial class that I took encouraged the cash envelope system. At first, the rule follower in me embraced the “When it’s gone, it’s gone” policy for things like clothes, groceries, eating out and entertainment. But living with my parents meant adjusting for impromptu family activities. My son was growing faster than I could replenish the “clothing” envelope. I constantly felt stressed and guilty at a time when I was trying to let go of my money-related fears. After a few months, I tossed the envelopes, budgeted for what I had control over and made a discipline of leaving some cushion for what I didn’t.
Stewardship classes are great, but in the end, we need to do what works for our family and give ourselves some grace. The point is to be responsible, not obsessive.
Saving a little is better than saving nothing. It felt great to contribute to my IRA for the first time in years, and to eventually set up an automatic transfer. Until I told the agent my amount and heard his That’s it? pause. I swallowed my embarrassment. “I figure a little is better than nothing.” The agent perked up. “That’s true. And you can always increase it.”
As I’ve watched my small contributions add up, I’ve learned that consistency is more important than the amount.
Be a good steward of surprises. “Spend that money on something fun,” a friend whispered to me when an award came with a check. It’s still in my savings account. I’m very protective of it, not because I’m hording it away instead of paying a bill, but because it came with an award that means a lot to me, and someone who also means a lot to me encouraged me to use it for something special. I just don’t know what that special thing is going to be yet. When I decide, I want the money to be there.
It is tempting to blow unexpected money (gifts, awards, bonuses, tax refunds), or allow financial experts to dictate how we ought to spend it. Instead, see it as God’s provision for what your regular budget doesn’t allow. Put it away until you know exactly how you want to use it. (For example, I have a friend who uses unexpected money as her generosity budget.)
Stewardship benefit others. I will never forget the joy of slipping a little cash into a card and sending it to another struggling single mom. For years, unstable finances had prevented me from being on the giving end of generosity. Now, though my income was below poverty level, I had enough stashed away to send someone a reminder that God heard her prayers.
The more responsible we can be with our income, the more God is able to use us to provide for others, even if only in small-but-sincere ways.
My income is still low. It might always be. God continues to show me that what matters is not how much we have, but what we do with what He provides.
Jeanette Hanscome is the author of Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope Grace and Promise and four other books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys mentoring writers, singing, being known as “the aunt who makes things” and watching her two sons become amazing young men.
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