When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame and sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? (Malachi 1:8)
For the most part, our offerings to God are seen only by God. No one else knows what is within our heart, the pressures we are dealing with, the growth that we have gone through to get where we are. Our prayers are not expressed to others for them to hear but go from our hearts to the heart of God and he sees us as we really are. Our efforts in our spiritual and personal lives are pretty private matters. We may share them with others but only God sees us for who we really are. That’s challenging in a way because surely nothing we offer to God is quite what we are capable of. And it’s comforting in another way because surely God’s grace is leading all our efforts and will continue to lead us into our potential. We are right where we need to be in our lives, not to stay there but as preparation for where we are to go next. Our offerings are, for the most part, between us and God.
But part of what we offer to God is observable by the world around us. Only God knows, for instance, just where I am in my personal relationships but how I treat the people in my life is out there for the world to see. There is only one being in life we are called to please – the Almighty God – and only he knows us fully. But sometimes we pretend he doesn’t notice. And sometimes we forget that there is tangible evidence in our lives of our relationship with God.
It’s that time of the year where I look at what each member of the parish pledges financially to the church so that we can make a budget and so that I can tell if anyone out there is listening to what we talk about with regard to stewardship and the Gospel of Christ. Each year I am deeply moved. Some people really get it. Some people give so very generously. Some have grown so much and had major turnarounds in their approaches to the blessings of God in their lives. Every year there are a few big WOWS as I look at what people are willing to offer to God’s work in the world through the church. Years ago, for instance, someone came in my office and said, “I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing; I need to make some changes in what I give.” He did and he continues to grow.
But overall this is a pretty discouraging time of the year for me as I look at those pledges. Remember John McEnroe’s famous line he would yell repeatedly at umpires? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! Every year I yell the same thing several times as I look at names and numbers. How frustrating it is to share the message of God’s great love for us and ask for a faithful response only to see that so many simply don’t care enough to offer what they should.
It’s not really the numbers that are so frustrating. You see, I have been here a long time. I’m all involved with the general lifestyles of our parishioners. I don’t know everything about everyone’s financial status but I’m fairly intimately involved with a large percentage of the people here. I see the pledge numbers and I see other choices being made. That’s discouraging.
Another source of discouragement is that I know most folks want to do better but they’re stuck. They’re over-committed, trying to work themselves out of some bad past decisions, addicted to a particular lifestyle, and are too paralyzed to make needed adjustments. Many are living in denial, hoping things will magically get better next year, and refusing to face the reality of their own financial lives. It hurts to watch people want to be generous but still being selfish. It hurts to know that many feel guilty about their offerings but can’t find the motivation to change their situations. I get angry at the numbers but I am so deeply saddened by what is behind the numbers. Most people would like to give more but they have lived beyond their means for so long, they can’t adjust. Instead of putting their offerings to God first, they have put their lifestyles first and God gets what’s left over.
Among the worst feelings in the world is to offer less to God than you know you should. We know God is watching. We know we want to do better. But we fill out the measly little pledge card, we bring the blind animal to the altar of God, we pretend it’s really all we can do right now, and we hope no one really notices.
I’ll get over my discouragement. I’ll try to find another way to share God’s grace and make the challenge to give in a more persuasive way. But, if you’re still reading, maybe it’s good for you to know that at least one person is watching what you give. Sometimes we pretend that even God isn’t watching.
If you were offering something to God, face to face, and you knew that he knows what you have and what you are capable of giving, how might that change what you give? How have you come to pretend that it is not so?
Give your best. God has given his.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.