Thursday, August 16, 2007

Unity in the midst of Strife

A conversation I had with a friend of mine the other day has me thinking about unity; specifically: the unity of a married couple where one partner disagrees with the other on a matter of moral responsibility.

Specifically: my marriage, in which my husband and I disagree on the manner in which we should spend our money.

I started this blog to track my efforts to do more for the poor in my everyday life, but I haven't been posting so much about the main struggle that I'm encountering. My husband is a good man, highly ethical, supportive and a good provider. We make a perfect match, actually, because he is pragmatic while I am idealistic. As I told him the other day "Together you and I make a good person." Without him, we would be in fantastical debt. Our bills might not be paid. Our children's future would be entirely unsecured. We certainly wouldn't have a house without his responsible stewardship of our credit rating.

But he does not think we can afford to give anything to charity at the moment. In the past, when I've come to him with a certain cause I want to contribute to, he has agreed on the condition that we cut back on something we're currently paying for. My Netflix subscription, for example, was canceled so we would have money to give the Archdiocese of Chicago for their annual campaign.

In general, I think his method is both morally and financially sound. I don't need a Netflix subscription (good bye, dear historical romances.) I feel much better about giving money to my church than spending it on entertainment. But as of right now, there's nothing more we can chip away at to find extra money. We're living frugally and responsibly. So if we want to give to charity (which I do) we have to start giving up the things we need to share with others.

The paint is an example. I want to give equal the amount we've just spent on painting our house to refugees from the Darfur conflict. So I suggested that instead of painting the rest of the walls this weekend, which we had planned to do, we wait another month so we have money to give to Darfur. To put it simply, I was met with resistance.

And this is my quandary. I don't have any money of my own. Neither does my husband. The money he makes at his job, we share. The money I've made, we share. We are a unit, a partnership, and neither of us can act unilaterally.

Yet what to do when my conscience urges me to spend in a way that he disagrees with? How much say should one partner have over the other's spending habits, especially in a marriage where we trust each other to make responsible financial decisions for the general good of our family?

As a Catholic, I know that my marriage is a vocation. It is through it that I am called to serve God. Subsuming my own desires for the sake of my marriage is absolutely necessary, even when those desires aren't directed for my own benefit. My mother has counseled me numerous times to simply leave the issue alone, to serve the poor in non-monetary ways. For the most part, I try to do this. But I am called so strongly to do something for the poorest of the poor, particularly in Africa where my heart has always been drawn.

Moreover, I know that we DO have money to give to charity. It is important for me to decorate our house and create a welcoming place for us to live, just like it is important for me to send my son to Montessori, to give him the best start possible in his education. Yet when it comes right down to it, neither of these things are so necessary that if my husband were to lose his job tomorrow, we wouldn't immediately stop spending money on them. There is money in our budget for Darfur, if we are creative and willing to sacrifice.

Yet if one partner is not willing to make that sacrifice, then what?

I'm attempting something this week which can be characterized as courageous or deceitful, depending on how you look at it. My hope is that it's courageous, and when I share my experiment with my husband, I hope he'll see it that way, too. I ask for your prayers as we work through this division, and for our future together. If anyone wishes to share their insight on unity in a marriage, believe me, I'm all ears!

6 comments:

Jennifer F. said...

Wow. This is so interesting -- when most spouses disagree about money, it is not about how much they should send to Africa.

Is your husband also Catholic? If I were him, I would just be so blown away by your dedication to this cause that I would just assume that this is coming directly from God and I need to shut up and get out the checkbook. :) Seriously, though, your level of selflessness here is quite stunning, and it seems like the Holy Spirit is really driving you on this.

If your husband is also Catholic, perhaps you could both agree to pray deeply about it: you pray to discern if God really wants you to be so dedicated to this particular cause, and he can pray about whether or not God wants him to pay closer attention to this issue that you feel so passionate about?

Anyway, thanks for sharing your story!

Tienne said...

Jen-

He is not a believer, unfortunately, though that might not make a difference in this case. I think his main objection is that we don't have extra money. It's true that we do have debt, but I feel that having a budget that allows for savings and paying down the debt is sufficient, and we can divide the rest of the money between personal spending and charity. He disagrees. It's not that he's being unreasonable, we're just coming from different places and can't seem to find a way to agree.

Thanks for your kind words! I hope it is the Holy Spirit guiding me. It's certainly something with a strong voice, because I'm hearing it everywhere, all the time!

Jennifer F. said...

Well, best of luck!

This seems like one of those "prayers God always answers" things -- I mean, *surely* God will help you find a way to increase the peace in your marriage and help the poor! It's not like you're trying to convince your husband to let you go shopping at Nordstrom's every weekend. :)

Anyway, thanks again for sharing, and you guys are in my prayers.

Anna said...

Tienne,

Keep in mind 2 Cor 9:7,

"Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

If your husband is reluctant to give any more than you might already be giving, and especially if you trust that he is motivated by a genuine concern for the family and not mere selfishness, then I would recommend avoiding trying to trick, nag, or otherwise pressure your husband into agreeing to give what you want to give. If you think you see a way that you can fit more giving into your budget, then present it to him as an option, explain why you think it will work, but if he says no, don't push it.

Especially if you see all the money as both of yours, then you don't want to be in the position of forcing him to unwillingly/reluctantly sacrifice something to satisfy your feelings of concern for the poor. Both of you need to be cheerful givers, not just you.

Willing sacrifice for others can do great good; but unwilling sacrifice just builds resentment and turns people away from each other.

That said, I agree with Jennifer F on the praying thing. If this is something God wants you to do, he will find a way for you to do it so that it does not harm your marriage. If you can't find a way to do it that does not harm your marriage, then it probably isn't something God intends for you. If this is a deep desire of your heart, then trust Him to find a way to make it work. Pray confidently for a solution that will satisfy everyone. (Maybe pray for God to change your husband's heart, so that he is more willing to sacrifice the things which you are willing to sacrifice).

Tienne said...

Anna, thanks for your thoughts! I love that verse from Corinthians, partly because it bolsters my intent to keep trying to take the poor with me. Surely, if God loves a cheerful giver, then He is happy with this exercise of mine! The desire to give is so strong in me right now. I can't help but feel it's Him prompting me.

Your point about the importance of my marriage is very well received -- there's no point in antagonizing my husband, especially since you rightly observe that his reluctance is due to our financial situation and not a complete unwillingness to give. I'm feeling confident at the moment about our ability to work together through this. Hopefully God takes matters into His own hands and helps out. :)

TaraS said...

Wow! How great to find this post two years later! I am right now going through much the same thing. There are things that I really feel called to do with some of the financial bounty we have received, but I sense that my husband (much more of a pragmatist and also a truly amazing provider) feels that we aren't in that position yet. Not sure what will come of it, but I am praying for the right outcome (whatever that may be!)