Our marriage was teetering on the brink of divorce.
We weren’t leaving. Yet. But we didn’t have a lot of hope. We genuinely wanted (and knew we probably needed) God’s help. So, we found ourselves at church one night doing something that seemed crazy.
We had lived in abundance since we’d been married: two great careers and plenty of extra money. Yet our marriage was bankrupt. It was over 15 years ago when we walked up to the front of the room and dropped our card in the box together. It was the first thing we’d committed to doing together in about nine months. On that little card was a very big number: it was the amount of money we committed to giving to our church for the next three years.
We were already regular givers (though I can’t remember how much at that time), so it seemed crazy to us to give even more. I could feel it was somehow a really important moment, but I had no idea why. I was mostly thinking of the new couch I couldn’t buy and the delay in my dream vacation to Hawaii. But it felt good to commit to something that was going to take three years to complete. That was the first good sign we’d had in months. At least we felt it was possible we might still be together in three years. Looking back, I know that God wasn’t actually after our money: he was after our hearts.
I slowly realized there was a lot more going on in our commitment together that night. It all had to do with what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21; “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” God was after our hearts.
We had no idea how to live as “one” and really make a life together. No idea there was even anything to know about how to be a good wife or a good husband. So instead, we lived successful lives alongside one another. The bank account was in the black, but the marriage was in the red. We just didn’t know what we didn’t know. Jesus said in Matthew 6:22-23, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” And that was us. So, God was after our hearts.
We had no idea that we didn’t know God. We thought we did. We were nice (enough) people (most of the time), but at the time we filled out that card, we were learning the hard way that nice just wasn’t enough. Jesus continued on in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” God was setting us up to choose something better, and he was using our money to do it. Nice wasn’t enough for him. Successful wasn’t enough for him. Giving just to check the box at church wasn’t enough for him. God was after our whole hearts.
In the next few years, that financial commitment brought things into our lives, and it took things out. First, it tied us to a community that was filled with the heart and purposes of God. Now, it seemed, we were “one of them” (at least in our checkbook): one of those crazy people who think God can actually do stuff in the world. We started to believe He could too. Next, we slowly made a couple of friends there who we eventually let into all the dirty dark parts of our marriage struggles. They didn’t bat an eye. Little by little, the shame started to drop away.
We had to reprioritize spending in our home and stuff we wouldn’t have thought twice about doing before. As we did, we began to evaluate where we were spending money and questioned it for this first time. We even prayed about it sometimes. I probably made at least one less trip to Target every month (and when I went—I actually put things back on the shelf from my cart once or twice!) We started to ask for advice on what kind of vacations we should take or where we might think about moving in a couple of years.
We started to think that maybe counseling was a better investment than our 401K and that one real friend was worth a thousand ‘work-friends.’ We found other people who had wisdom we didn’t have and marriages we didn’t have. That suddenly seemed more important than all the money in the world. We also had to deal with our own hearts. Turns out mine was pretty stingy, and my husband’s was incredibly naturally generous. I began to admire new things about him that I’d never seen before. In all of this, while giving away way “too much” money, we saw it wasn’t about money at all. God was after our hearts and to convince us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Through giving, we came face to face with a God who wanted our money, but he wanted it because he knew it was the path to a new place for us. He knew we’d see a bigger purpose than our careers. He knew we’d get to know how kind he was even when we were jerks. He brought us people who somehow taught us very slowly how to be married again. Every now and then, I think about the night we made that commitment and wonder where we’d be if we hadn’t. I was scared, but now I don’t know why. God did want our money. But it was so he could give us what was worth so much more.