I’ve never struggled with tithing, I don’t share that to brag, but it’s an important part of our story. I started tithing with my first job in high school. No matter how tight our budget was, I knew we couldn’t out-give God. Matt struggled with this though, and so we weren’t giving regularly and when we did give, it usually was less than 10%. I don’t share that as a knock on him; again, it’s an important part of our story.
Our story actually starts about 4 ½ years ago. Our budget was beyond tight. Monthly bills put us in the hole each month. That included only necessities, and did not include expenses that weren’t monthly like oil changes, clothing, haircuts, etc. We began asking God for a specific yearly salary. Compared to what we were making, it was a huge ask. Since we were asking for something big, we decided to show God that He could trust us with the little we had and thus became regular tithers.
We continued praying for this specific amount and continued to show God that He could give it to us by being trustworthy with the little we had. Over the next year, God always provided. We didn’t get the amount we were asking for, but we never went hungry, never missed a rent payment, and always had clothes to wear. I remember looking at the budget month after month and saying, “I don’t know how this is working. We shouldn’t be able to pay these bills.” Yet we were. Fishes and loaves. Thank you, Jesus!
It was both exciting and stressful to see how God was going to provide each month. I thought that my willingness to tithe was evidence that I trusted God. I knew I had other areas to work on, but I really, really thought trust wasn’t an issue for me.
It was about a year after we had started praying for this specific number that we were asked to move out of the house we were renting. The timing was absolutely terrible- we got the notice on the same day we left the hospital with a newborn. We did as much packing as we could but it seemed to never end. Moving day came, and we had several friends and family members over to help. It felt like we were never going to finish boxing up all of our possessions. We filled the biggest moving truck you could rent 1.5 times, plus had several pick-up truck and minivan loads.
At the end of moving day, I was tired and worn out, but mostly embarrassed. Embarrassed that we had so much stuff. Embarrassed that friends and family saw it. It was our last night at the old house, and I was sleeping on a pallet on the bedroom floor. I began to pray and self-reflect.
Why do I have so much stuff? Why am I holding on to it all? What if I get rid of something and then we end up needing it; we don’t have the income to buy it again. I’m holding on to everything because we are poor. If we just made a little more, I could get rid of so much.
God, it’s been a year. Are you going to answer our prayer? We need a bigger income. Haven’t we shown you that you can trust us?
“But do you trust me?”
Whoa! There was no mistaking that voice. It was so clear. I didn’t hear it with my ears, but there was no denying it wasn’t my own voice or my own thoughts. It was direct and firm, but at the same time gentle and loving. And true. Oh, so very true. I thought I trusted God. But now I realized that I didn’t. I didn’t trust Him to provide my every need.
We got into the new house, and I started going through all my belongings. I organized things into keep, trash, or sell. The rich young ruler in the Bible was told to sell his possessions, right? And if we sold it, we could use that money to supplement our income. We were still barely skimping by, and now we had another mouth to feed. But that mouth was also a newborn, and newborns are pretty time consuming. I really didn’t have time to sell anything.
Eventually, other things got in the way of my sorting and the only things I ended up actually getting rid of was obvious trash. I kept creating excuses, some of them were legitimate, like being on bedrest with a new pregnancy and suffering from post-partum depression. But mostly, they were just excuses.
3 years passed. Three years. God still provided every single, stinking month without fail. We were always able to make our rent payment. We always had clothes to wear. We never had to beg for food. There were new jobs and small pay raises, but there were also 2 new mouths to feed. Money was still tight. We still couldn’t budget in oil changes or new clothes for growing children and definitely nothing extra. I still look back and am amazed at how God provided for another 3 years when the math still wasn’t supposed to work.
There were consequences to my disobedience, though. It’s hard to describe why or how, but having so much stuff made me feel like I was prisoner in my own home. Our house was filled with clutter. Piles of papers on the kitchen table, a mountain of fabric and craft supplies in the “crafting corner.” Homeschool books and endless school supplies in our home classroom. It was impossible to find what we needed when we needed it because we had so much stuff. It’s hard to take care of your belongings when you have a lot of belongings to take care of, so things were constantly getting broken or ruined.
Getting 4 young kids ready to go and out of the house was such a chore amongst all the clutter, so we mostly stayed at home. When we did get out of the house, I felt guilty, like I should be at home organizing, but I rarely did organize when we were at home. Inviting people into our home was most definitely not going to happen. Our marriage relationship went through its roughest period too. I was suffering from post-partum depression after Bryant was born, and I know sometimes that just happens after you have a baby, but I also know feeling like a prisoner to my things made my depression a thousand times worse.
Matt and I had countless “discussions” on how we could tame the clutter and what the best method was to get rid of all of our junk. Finding time and getting the children out of the way were our biggest obstacles. He suggested over and over that we just rent a dumpster for a day and throw stuff in without even looking. That sounded ridiculous to me. There were things we obviously did need and that didn’t seem to be good stewardship.
I was getting desperate, though. I wanted out of my prison. I was driving in my car alone, and I know exactly where I was on Shawnee Mission Parkway when I asked God, “What if we did get rid of literally everything? Would we be bad stewards of what we have? Would you really provide for us?”
“But do you trust me?”
Just like before. It was the same exact voice. Still direct and firm. Still gentle and loving. The thought was interjected into my own thoughts in such a way that it’s just not possible the voice was my own.
I lost it and the tears started flowing. For 3 years, God had been waiting for me. Waiting for me to answer his question, “Do you trust me?” He is so patient and full of grace. At any point he could have given up on me, but he didn’t.
God and I spent some time hashing out what he wanted from me and how I could show him that I do trust him. While I know I could get rid of literally everything and God would provide my needs, there are a few items that we use regularly that we’ve decided to keep. As I boxed things up, if I got stuck on whether to keep an item or get rid of it, I immediately asked God for wisdom and asked myself if I was trusting God. There have been some really hard things that I have given up, but I trust God.
So, with the 90-day challenge, we were ready and willing to listen to God and do what He said. Matt and I increased our giving; in obedience, we went from tithing on the net to tithing on the gross. We looked at our budget and made changes to give us freedom to give more. Also, because there is a good life insurance plan through his employer, we cancelled one we had carried for a long time and committed to give that total to the Lord for 3 months as well. We had started packing our stuff to trust to God, but had not actually gotten anything out of the house. So during the challenge we took the back seats out of our minivan and donated at least 4 loads to various ministries and we are still working on getting rid of more.
God has honored our obedience and our trust; On February 5th, Matt will start a new job, working for the city of Shawnee’s Parks and Recreation department and help bring kingdom to our city…. The salary is not what we had been praying for over the past 5 years, it’s more! Thank you Jesus!