I spent some time working in tech support, and during my first few months, my mantra was “I don’t even know what questions I should even be asking yet.” I was looking for the questions before the questions.
My study on stewardship began the same way. Early last year, I sat at the coffee shop by my office and wrote in my journal, “What does it mean to own things?” And I don’t think I got much further in my thoughts during that particular lunch break. In fact, I didn’t re-visit the question with much focus until we began the home buying process that Winter.
Since then, many journal pages and hours at the library have been spent reflecting on what it means to do the best with what I have been given. What started as a question about material possessions quickly boiled over into questions about my influence, time, yard, job, etc.
This is because we can’t say with one breath, “I need to be a better steward of my finances” while also saying, “how I treat my body is of little consequence”. Either everything, if you follow it to its end, is meaningless or it isn’t. If I have something, whether material or otherwise, it is on purpose and for a reason.
That is a big order, no doubt, but it shouldn’t leave us overwhelmed. In the end, good stewardship may well be summed up as “excellence in everything” or “truly doing the best that we can with what we have”. We should remind ourselves that humble progress is good thing, and that the goal isn’t to arrive perfect, but faithful. As the widow with two mites, what we have may not be much, but we offer it faithfully regardless.
Being raised in the Church, I heard a lot about financial stewardship, but not much about how I should take care of my hand tools or my clothing. That gave me a great practical starting question: “What does it mean to be a good steward of anything?”
With that in mind, I started with the following outline for a practical stewardship. My belief is that anything that we “have”, whether material possessions, time, personal skills, and all in between, can be stewarded well by moving through three stages: Observation, Planning and Action.
It is tempting to begin stashing away in a saving account or cleaning up the yard without too much forethought. After all, instant gratification is just that—instant. It feels good to think that we’re making progress right out of the gate. Observation in stewardship means, however, that we take time to ask questions and understand. There’s a reason there are three stages and not just a singular “Act”.
For instance, when I worked through the observation stage of stewarding my clothing, I simply got everything out of my closet and took stock of what I had. Next, I went and read a number of articles and books on how to take care and treat clothing. I had honestly never thought of it before. It was just clothing, after all.
One book that really struck me was Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy. Coming from a Japanese perspective, she offers practical tips on how to fold, store, and purge clothing. I adapted most of these practices, but particularly enjoyed her approach to being thankful for clothing (although I did modify the process a bit by thanking God for my shoes as I put them on, and not just thanking the shoes themselves).
As silly as it may seem, it really does make sense. In a Western culture, we live in such excess, while much of the world does without. In light of great need, gratitude can go much further than guilt. This gratitude should lead us, not to a more indulgent lifestyle, but to a moderate one. Living with gratitude towards my shoes means that I am thankful for what I have and am not always wanting bigger, better, and nicer.
I have probably spent the more time in the planning stewardship stage of my yard than any other area. The plans only really started after doing a lot of observation around what it meant to “own” land, what sorts of trees and wildlife we had, and what our budget was for changing anything. My wife and I sketched out numerous drawings on phases of development for our yard and what the priorities should be. Our aim is honor God’s creation, our neighborhood and our family by what we do with our 1.3 acres of ivy and trees. It may not keep us “up with the Joneses” or win any awards, but we’re continually planning small changes that make a big impact.
Action is the final stage and in many ways, the final frontier. It’s great to think and plan and observe and research, but if we don’t act, it’s all for nothing. In 1st John, the early Church is reminded that it is great to have right theology, but if there isn’t right living, it doesn’t matter. It’s great for me to think a great deal about how I might be a better employee and greater steward of my job, but if that’s where it ends it’s of no benefit to me or my company.
In June of this year, I began to act out my plans for becoming a better employee. I am a programmer by trade, and I think that I do a decent job most of the time. However, I had succumbed to more of the mundane aspects of the projects I was working on and had let myself become stagnant. I began reading a number of different programming books all at once, attended a software conference, and even checked out my first developer meet-up. On top of all of that, as I worked in the yard or cleaned up the house (learning to be a good steward in those areas), I devoured around 100 episodes from various software development podcasts.
The results have been amazing, and my heart has been re-invigorated for my craft. Since June, I have done a lot of clean up on a project that previously stressed me out, and have been excited to go in and work on it every day. That not only affects my day-to-day outlook, but also the workflow of everyone else involved on that project. God has shown me that this is what action in stewardship should look like: a healthy decisiveness that keeps your heart fascinated and impacts others.
I’ve said a lot here, but I wanted to give a sort of introduction into some of the principles that I’ve been studying and learning about over the past year. This really is just scratching the surface, so I’m excited to dive deeper into the stages and examples in the future.
If you took the time to read this far, what are some areas of your life that you would like to become a better steward of that maybe you didn’t consider before? Leave a comment below!