You and your spouse are pulling out of the church parking lot. The message that day was on giving. During the message, you exchanged glances, as if you both knew God was speaking to you. In your heart you know your financial relationship with God isn’t where it needs to be. During the last song, you held hands, sharing a moment of physical and spiritual connection.
This is the moment of truth. The kids are on their phones. Where you are eating lunch has been decided. Will the two of you have a conversation about what you both just experienced?
Maybe it’s a harder conversation. Maybe your heart was stirred by the message, but you looked at your spouse and saw arms crossed, mouth frowning, eyebrows furrowing. How do you talk about what God is saying to you?
It could be the other way around. During the message, you found your heart bracing against the sermon. You looked at your spouse to see if they feel as negatively as you do, but to your surprise, you saw them leaning forward, nodding. Fear raced through your mind: “She/he can’t be taking this seriously.”
How do you have that crucial conversation about giving? More than any other spiritual discipline, convictions about giving get dropped quickly in the face of bringing it up with your partner.
- Fear of starting a conflict. It is easy for a conversation about giving to turn into a fight about spending and financial management.
- Fear of resurrecting an old conflict. Old conflicts that may have nothing to do with money get attached to the giving conversation. What begins as a conversation about generosity surfaces old wounds about being controlled or invalidated.
- Feeling vulnerable about inadequacies. If one partner feels inadequate about money matters, he or she may be reluctant to expose their vulnerability.
- Feeling vulnerable about unhealthy habits. One partner in the relationship may feel shame about unhealthy habits that take discretionary income and limit the ability to give. They want to avoid facing that issue at all costs.
So how do you have this crucial conversation about giving?
Someone has to go first. This is a good chance for husbands to lead and say, “I feel like we need to talk about the message today.” About 80% of the time, however, women take the lead in bringing up an issue the couple needs to face. If you sense you both felt moved by God, either partner can say, “I sense you felt God speaking to you during the message. I did too. Can we talk about that?”
If you felt moved during the message and sensed resistance from your spouse, the issue still needs to be raised. You might say, “I sense we reacted differently to the message today. I would like to hear what you experienced and then share with you what I experienced.”
If you felt resistant and noticed your spouse was moved, it will strengthen your relationship if you bring up the issue first: “I felt really closed to the message today and I’m not sure why. But I noticed you seemed to be really engaged. Can you share with me what you experienced? Then I’d like to talk about what I was feeling.” If you know why you felt resistant, take the risk of being vulnerable and share the reason. “I was really resistant to the message today. Whenever I hear a pastor talk about giving, it reminds me of all the money my parents sent to TV evangelists and how that money was misused. I sense you had a different reaction. Would you mind sharing it with me?”
No matter your starting point, be courageous and go first! Get the conversation started!
Make a commitment to explore the message from God, but not reach a conclusion. “I think we need to talk about this, but not leap to a decision today.” This one statement will lower the anxiety of the other partner. It will probably lower your own anxiety! When God speaks to you in any worship service, he wants you to reflect on what he is saying. Ask: “Is the message we think we are hearing consistent with God’s Bible?” Jesus said, “Count the cost.” What’s the cost of the message you heard? What do your feelings represent?
Commit to talk these things through without judging each other. Use “I” statements, not “we” statements. A good “I” statement: “I feel convicted we should give more, but I worry about our credit card debt.” A bad “we” statement: “We should give more, but we can’t because we have too much credit card debt. At all costs, avoid “you” statements: “If you made more money, we could give more.” That conversation will go rapidly downhill.
A good exploration conversation will mean you take turns listening to each other. Make sure you clearly understand each other (“I think I hear you saying you are worried if we increase our giving, we won’t be able to take a vacation this year.”). The focus of this part of the conversation will be on how you feel, not coming up with a plan of action.
A special word to men: Once we hear there is a problem, we want to come up with a solution! Do not prematurely move to problem solving!
Tentatively explore possible next steps. If you both sense the same next step, this is easy. You might agree that you need to begin to give $100 a week. God sent you the same message.
What happens when you see different steps? The general principle of 1 Peter 3:7 applies: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” In this case, focus on the principle of this verse, not the specific teaching regarding gender roles. For example, if a wife says, “I believe we need to step up to giving 10% of our income,” and the husband says, “I’m afraid we can’t afford that,” a good response from the wife would be, “I respect your fears. I will not push. What would be a next step that would stretch us, but not break us apart?”
What if you can’t come to a middle ground? Like Paul, I would offer you my judgment, not a “word from the Lord.” If a couple can’t come to agreement on giving or find middle ground, giving is not the issue. Giving represents something deeper that needs to be addressed. The deeper issue at the very least inhibits closeness between partners and at worst indicates a relational time bomb that is waiting to go off. I think God would want you to commit to dealing with the real issue in the marriage before you begin to resolve questions about giving. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Seek peace in the relationship first and the giving conversation will be much easier.
Once you agree on a possible next step, it’s a good moment to bring this conversation to a close. Before the conversation ends, commit to step four and set a time when you will resume the conversation.
Hold the next step loose and commit to pray. As you close the first conversation, agree to hold the possible next step loosely. You think you have common ground and a common vision for what God wants you to do. Commit to one another to pray about this for a specific period of time. If your pattern as a couple is to pray out loud together, do so. If it is not your pattern, forcing an “out loud” prayer on this issue will be artificial and will create suspicion and mistrust.
I would not make this time of holding the next step loosely and praying too long. Other life issues will be to crowd out the message of God, like thorns choke out seeds struggling up to the sun. I would suggest a period of no longer than three days.
As you pray, ask God to give you and your spouse peace about your next step in giving. There is no formula for receiving the peace of God. Sometimes a feeling of well-being enters your souls. Sometimes there is a sign of confirmation, such as a financial blessing or an unexpected encouraging word from friends. Sometimes there is a conviction that the next step is correct, but you still feel uneasy. This is normal! God told Joshua three times before he led the people of Israel to the Promised Land, “Don’t be afraid!” A healthy measure of fear is a sign that you are truly stepping forward in faith.
What if you pray and still feel no peace? Simply report back to your spouse your experience and commit to continue to pray.
Close the Loop. When it’s time to resume the conversation, make sure you have un-interrupted time (when the kids are asleep and pressing chores are done). Start this conversation by summarizing where you left off the last conversation. Remember to receive the feelings and impressions of your partner without judgment.
Now ask the proposed next step still feels reasonable to each of you. If so, then it’s time to put it in motion. It sounds hokey, but put it in writing! Writing helps it be real and helps you remember. Designate which one of you will be responsible for making sure the gift(s) will be given. Do not assume it is the one who always pays the bills! It might be important for both of you to share in the act of giving. Discuss the best way for you to share the gift: check, online, automatic bank draft, text to give, etc. I strongly suggest you not give cash. Contributions to churches are tax deductible. Giving by a traceable method allows the church to provide you with a statement of contributions that you can use when you prepare your tax return.
Once the gift is given, be sure to celebrate! You have taken a next step toward Jesus. He whispered to your soul and you followed. Be sure to share your feelings after giving. Do you feel excited? Sad? Fearful? All of the above? Each emotion is a cue to how to pray.
Notice the unexpected blessings God sends to you to honor your giving. Name these blessings to each other. If one partner feels a blessing is a direct result of giving and the other partner doesn’t, honor how each partner feels. Each of you will be able to see God’s hand at work in different ways.
What if you don’t see eye to eye? What if you are not on the same page? If this is the case (and giving does not represent an underlying unaddressed issue), then continue to pray and talk non-judgmentally until you find a common direction from God. God has the ability to make his direction plain to you in his time. Do not let a church deadline or pressure from a church leader (even a pastor!) hurry God’s work. It may be that God is preparing your heart for something bigger than you can imagine or conceive!
The temptation is to grow weary in the discussion. Heed Paul’s testimony to the Philippians: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The work of the conversations you share will draw you closer to each other and to God. If you get discouraged, go back and share the feelings you experienced in the worship service.
If you have trouble having this conversation, I encourage you as a couple to talk with a trusted Christian mentor or a pastor. You might need a third party to help you hear what each other is truly saying.
Non-judgmental, vulnerable conversations about giving can bring a new sense of closeness in a relationship. God may be inviting you to experience a whole new level of intimacy with each other and with him!