One of my responsibilities at Montecito Covenant Church during the fourteen years of my ministry there was to help provide counseling for couples seeking to be married in our sanctuary. It was one of my favorite things to do, and that was partially true because it was something my husband did with me. Yes, my husband, the businessman. My husband, who is not a pastor.
And that was a very good thing. Why? Because he brought years of experience with one of the touchiest topics of all: money, and how we steward it. When I did my training with Prepare/Enrich (one of the best tools out there for counseling engaged couples), I thought perhaps issues like family of origin, sexual expectations and compatibility, or the shadow of past relationships might be primary points of friction. Nope. Number one on the list was almost always communication practices followed closely by financial concerns. Money is right at the center of things for all of us, it seems, a topic that can lead to conflict, both internal and external.
Since my retirement, we’ve also done financial counseling with both single adults and long-married couples, and we’ve found some of the same things to be true for all of us—not just engaged couples. In our meetings with these friends, we talk about things like budgets—looking at guesstimated future expenses for our premarital sessions, and actual ones for those further along life’s road. And we always encourage everyone to prioritize two things as we look at those spending patterns: giving and saving. It seems to us that generosity and wisdom are the hallmarks of good stewardship, whether you’re just starting out or find yourselves in a bit of a pinch at some later point.
When working with couples, either new or long-term, we strongly encourage them to figure out which of the two is good at numbers and organizational calendaring. That is the partner who needs to be handling bills! In our own marriage, I have handled the paperwork for about three years out of nearly fifty. Does that tell you anything about my facility with this part of life? I’m glad I did it, that I “get” it and that I could do it again, if anything should happen to make it impossible for Dick to continue doing the lion’s share of this particular task. But I’m also more than happy to relinquish my fingerprints from the checkbook (or the computer screen, as the case may be), and let my monetarily talented husband guide and direct this piece of our marital partnership.
It has been our own personal experience that generosity on our part tends to open the door to blessing.
It can feel a little bit scary to anyone struggling with money issues to think about prioritizing the setting aside of funds for church and charity and a savings account. It usually means cutting out some extraneous expenses elsewhere for a while, and we’re very up-front about that. But we do our best to alleviate any fear, assuring those we meet with that being generous and wise is not only sound financially, but important to our spiritual health as well. Although we do not ascribe to any form of a “health and wealth” interpretation of the gospel, it has been our own personal experience that generosity on our part tends to open the door to blessing. Not necessarily material blessing, but a deep sense of personal satisfaction, wrapped in the gift of joy.
One of the richest rewards of this work that we’ve done together has been hearing from those we’ve counseled in the past. To a person, they say that practicing generosity and learning to be wise about saving have been game-changers for them. It’s not always easy to do, but it is always good—good for those to whom we are generous, and good for us, as well. That ancient writer of the book of Proverbs spelled it out beautifully: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”