My mind has been parked on the theme of stewardship lately. It’s a topic I’ve been taught all my life, but my understanding of it has always been foggy. On a cognitive level I grasped the foundational principles of tithing and that everything I own really belongs to God, but as one who, when honest, can admit that I have a covert issue with control, I know that my heart belief has been “what’s mine is mine.” And as long as I’m being honest, in general, the topic of stewardship made me uncomfortable, for the same reason it might make anyone uncomfortable. I stunk at it.
In recent weeks, I feel like the fog is lifting and God has been showing me how narrow my focus has been. I found myself taking a few steps back, and seeing how stewardship is not a simple discipline confined to making regular deposits in the Sunday morning offering basket. On a side note, “deposit”, in this context, is giving back a portion of what has been given to me, not forfeiting or consenting to part with something that is mine. For veteran tithers, this may be stating the obvious, but I still have to remind myself. The big revelation for me is realizing that stewardship is not limited to monetary gifts to the church or the motives that drive them. Stewardship is fully living life in grateful service to the Master. It’s everything.
How did I arrive at this? By observing fictional British drama, of course. Downton Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and countless other similar stories have seen huge success in recent years, so I know I’m not the only one who eats this stuff up. Contrary to what one might assume of anyone locked into a life of servitude, it occurred to me that many of the servants portrayed in these stories seem perfectly happy to serve. I don’t know a lot about British history or traditional social class structures, so I’m going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that the joy demonstrated by these characters makes sense. Assuming one is born into an economy of extremes (one is either very very poor or very very rich), and happened to have landed in one of the poorer families, with no guarantee of food, shelter, or education. Landing a job at a large estate and being employed by a benevolent master would be seen as a great fortune or blessing. It’s in knowing where they came from, such individuals could serve cheerfully, with genuine gratitude for the employment, the accommodations, the warm meals, and any other perks that came with the territory.
In today’s economy and the world in general, I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are not in control of life as much as we like to think. We are born into an impoverished world, with no real hope other than the open door and welcome arms of the most benevolent Master. He knows our past. He knows our nasty heritage, and yet still invites us in to be a part of His household. He will sometimes employ us where we shine. Other times He may assign us to a post that will be more challenging, but only when He is confident that we are able to rise to the challenge. He allows us to make choices, even on occasions when He knows we will fail. Ultimately, He knows how to bring out the best in us.
With this paradigm shift, I am learning what real stewardship looks like in my life, and adjusting accordingly. As steward of our finances, our home, my health, my time, the creative gifts I’ve been given, and the relationships I’ve been blessed with, I am entrusted to manage these things. I know it is a process, and process takes time, but I find this truth to be powerful. In it I am transported from the tyranny of survival mode and a demanding to-do list, to a greater sense of purpose. Seeing myself in the role of a grateful servant rather than eking out life independently, brings so much more joy to the ordinary.
For more thoughts on giving up to-do lists, see “What About Today?”, by Valerie Sjodin at Visual Blessings. Her words have been encouraging to me as I’ve been transitioning from working outside the home and struggling to re-define my days.