Understanding why you give changes how you give

Writing your own ‘money autobiography’

By Roy W. Howard | Presbyterians Today
Graffiti of stick figure holding a heart

Craig Birrell/Unsplash

The most common way a sermon about money goes wrong is when people hear guilt and shame rather than grace and gratitude. These emotions are not helpful. But like weeds in spring, guilt and shame seem to always emerge when talking about money. The antidote is to be clear that everything that is good in our life springs from the well of grace — God’s undeserved and unmerited favor — and the only appropriate response to grace is gratitude. Theologian Karl Barth said it beautifully when he wrote, “Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.”

Barth borrowed from the apostle Paul, who is emphatic about God’s goodness toward us. In 2 Corinthians 8, verses 1–15, Paul says, “God has given grace to the churches of Macedonia.” As a result of that grace, the churches — even though they were suffering what Paul described as “extreme poverty” — were overflowing with generosity. They were begging to give to others. What’s most remarkable is the absence of talk about how much money was available to give. That was beside the point. And it can be beside the point for us today, too.

Giving out of joy begins with a change in how we decide what to give. What most of us do is measure our resources against our expenses. We then determine what we can do when we are faced with invitations to give. When measuring our resources against our expenses, we often conclude that we have little to give. We then hold back in sharing what we have.

A Haitian farmer told me this proverb: “The one who never eats alone will never go hungry.” It was his way of saying that when you share what little you have, you will always have enough for yourself. And when we share what we have with others, it creates a groundswell of gratitude in the hearts of many, who in turn share what they have with others. Our sharing becomes part of a much larger work of God in the world.

To get to this generosity that comes from a place of joy — not from measuring our resources against our expenses — I suggest writing your money autobiography. A money autobiography has been one of the most helpful exercises I have ever done. Developed by the Faith and Money Network, a nonprofit equipping people to transform their relationship with money, the money autobiography can be used individually, with sessions and committees, or with an entire congregation. It’s simple, but the effects are enormous.

The money autobiography helps you understand your relationship to money, uncovering attitudes that formed as early as childhood. It’s a simple journaling exercise with writing prompts that ask you to focus on your relationship with money. As you begin to observe patterns, you may find clues to how you might change your giving patterns to ones that are more joyful and more generous. Remember, it’s not about the amount you have. It’s about the joy of giving.

Roy W. Howard is a leadership coach and consultant in North Potomac, Maryland. He most recently served for 18 years as pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland.

Creating Your own ‘money autobiography’

The following are some examples of the writing prompts from Faith and Money Network’s “Creating a Money Autobiography.” There are no right or wrong answers. If you don’t like to write, put your thoughts down in brief notes or an outline or a drawing.

  • What is your happiest memory in connection with money?
  • What event has brought you the greatest pain around money?
  • How does money — having it or not having it — affect your self-esteem?
  • How balanced are your giving and receiving?
  • Do you think charity can ever get in the way of justice? If so, why? If not, why?

To learn more about money autobiographies, go to faithandmoneynetwork.org

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