Q&A FOR MINISTRY WIVES
I'm Tired of Struggling Financially
By Gabriele Rienas
Q: I am tired of struggling financially. Our salary meets our basic needs, but money is always tight. Today I had to tell my son that we can no longer afford to have him participate in the sport he loves. We have been in the ministry since we married 12 years ago. We pastor a small church. The loving people in our congregation can only afford to pay us a small salary. I am the church administrative assistant and work full-time but receive only a part-time salary. I don’t know how much longer I can stand the financial strain on our household.
A: Financial worries can be emotionally draining and relentlessly stressful. At the same time many people feel it necessary to hide their struggles out of shame. Thank you for your honesty. I assume that you, like most people entering the ministry, have made peace with the likelihood you will not accumulate wealth. However, after a sustained time of scrimping and doing without while others seem to thrive, frustration can easily come.
You mentioned that your salary meets your basic needs, so I am going to respond from that perspective. (If you were lacking in basic needs such as groceries or shelter, I would suggest that you address those needs first by letting your congregation and your district know and by reaching out for assistance wherever it is available in your community.)
A major contributing factor to financial stress is not so much the dollars you earn as it is the reality that our culture strongly celebrates both accumulation and immediate gratification. This tide threatens to sweep us all along toward obtaining more stuff and better technology. Though we know cognitively that possessions do not bring happiness, it certainly appears like they do in commercials and advertisements. It takes a conscious effort to turn our eyes away from those things and to remind ourselves that true joy comes only from the One we serve who continually reminded us He will meet all of our needs.
There is no shame in living simply and frugally. At the same time, there is no shame in honestly admitting to others that you have financial limitations. If this is your reality, then speaking the truth about that will free you from the stress of hiding it. Do not allow the pressure of unspoken expectations to add to your worries. For example, it is common to socialize by going out for dinner or spending recreational time with friends. This presents a dilemma for our financial challenges if we make plans that exceed what we can afford. Find ways to matter-of-factly clarify where your limits lie or suggest less costly alternatives.
Beware of comparisons. Comparisons bring discontentment. Remain vigilant about this because it is so easy to fall into this trap. Observing what other people enjoy can so easily bring envy and longing because it seems like the object or the experience of their enjoyment would do so much to enrich our own lives. Remind yourself of what you already know: that no thing or recreational experience can ever bring lasting happiness, health, or contentment.
Again, financial stress lies not so much in what we have, but in what we believe about what we have. Attitude toward financial success plays the biggest factor in interpreting our situation. Prayerfully ask God to reveal false beliefs that bring discouragement like:
- we won’t have enough.
- we can’t keep up with others.
- we have less than everybody else.
- our children will be hurt by this.
- this is unfair.
Root out such thoughts by pursuing financial attitudes of thankfulness, self-discipline, faith, and generosity.
I suggest seeking some outside input regarding your financial situation. Find a reputable class on personal finance or a financial advisor who can put fresh eyes on your situation. He/she could recommend the best way to catch up on those bills as well as find ways to bring you greater freedom. Some simple adjustments might bring relief fairly quickly.
Pray about creative ways to supplement your income. Revisit with your husband your decision to work at the church office and explore other options you might pursue. On the other hand, consider cutting back your hours at the church to match your part-time salary, allowing you to supplement your income in other ways. If creative ideas seem scarce, ask for outside advice from people whom you financially admire.
Remember that you are modeling your values to your child. No doubt he will be disappointed that he cannot join his team. However, he will not suffer any lifelong ill effects from missing sports unless you model for him a perspective that teaches him to be devastated by it. In other words, he will take his cue from you as to how consuming this disappointment is. If you matter-of-factly acknowledge his feelings, while at the same time urging him to cooperate with the family in financial decisions, you will teach him lifelong lessons.
Finally, in no way do I want to sound cliché; however, the call to ministry carries an inherent dependence on faith in God’s provision. While it requires a higher level of trust, it will also reap a deeper dependence on Him. In times of financial blessing or in times of financial challenge, we still serve the same God who has promised to take care of us. While we should strive to continually gain more wisdom in all things, including financial, we have no choice but to trust Him along the way.