Obligated to Spend

Have you ever had to buy a birthday present for someone when you knew that there was no money in the bank or in the budget for it? For those of you who don’t have kids yet, let me tell you, other children’s birthday’s can wreak havoc on you budget! I try to keep track of them so that I can disperse my gift budget adequately for the month. However, no matter how I try to keep track, my kids just keep getting invited to new birthday parties. In August alone we have six significant birthdays that we have to buy presents for! So what do you do when you have no birthday fund and need to buy a gift?

I call this type of spending “obligation spending”. It sounds innocent and maybe even necessary, but it can actually be a major factor in sabotaging your budget and landing you in debt. It actually is not innocent at all. Many times the gift is actually just for the sake of your pride, not because the Holy Spirit is leading you to give, and not because you have joy in giving.

When I was growing up there was a couple in our church that were some of the most amazing givers I have ever know. All through town they were known for their generosity. She would give extravagant parties with the most amazing gifts. You definitely did not want to miss a party at their house. However, a few years after I graduated college they went through an extremely difficult time and finally revealed to my parents that they were actually $90,000.00 in credit card debt!!! All of those wonderful presents and parties had been on the credit card! She had done it all for other people, but had actually lost herself, her marriage, and even her home in the process.

This is an extreme example, but it is my contention that you CANNOT give what you do not have. If you are giving what you don’t have then something is wrong in your heart in the gift. Many times, that kind of gift is actually all about you and not about the person you are giving to. You are afraid of what other people will think, embarrassed that you don’t have the money, you want to keep up the façade, you feel like you have no option, you are afraid that you will offend people… it is a vicious game of obligation and it is totally NOT from God.

In fact, when Jesus had given all He had to give, He withdrew from people with His disciples. There were still sick people. There were still needs, but Jesus said that He only did what He saw His Father in Heaven doing. He didn’t worry about offending people, and he never gave out of obligation. He gave from compassion and love, and that is powerful.

When we give because it is what is expected, instead of because the Holy Spirit is leading us, it truly robs all the joy from the gift. And if we are spending what we don’t have on that gift, it isn’t even us who is giving the gift… it’s actually the credit card company. God doesn’t lead you into debt. He leads you into life. However, obligation will very quickly lead you into debt.

So what do you do when you feel like you need to give, but don’t have the finances to give. I have to tell you that the very best gifts are not the expensive gifts… they are the gifts that come with thought and love. I have a dear friend that gives the best presents, but I don’t think that she has ever spent more than $5 on me or my kids. She has never had the money to give, and instead of pretending that she does, she gives from her heart. For example, for one birthday she gave me a beautiful little flowerpot that she hand painted and planted herbs in. Each gift is creative and comes with such beautiful and thoughtful notes. I am always challenged by the amazing way that she uses her extremely limited resources to bless others. I have also seen her arrive with nothing but a card and every fiber of my being was proud to call her my friend because she gave according to what she had.

In the Luke 21:1-4, Jesus looks and sees a poor widow putting in two mites to the treasury and comments that she had actually given more than all of the rich people that had given. She gave what she had and it was beautiful.

It is time to stop pretending with our giving. It is time to just be honest, and give what you have, and if you don’t have it then get creative. And if you do have the money, then give generously and with joy. It is so fun to be a blessing, but don’t give it out of obligation. Give it with liberality and freedom.

I just want to add this note. If you have money, then be a generous giver. It’s a funny thing, but many times the wealthiest people give the worst gifts. Sometimes I think it is because they feel like everyone is expecting something from them and so they don’t ever want to give. This is just as yucky as giving what you don’t have. Once again, you are being controlled by other people’s opinions and expectation of you instead of doing what is in your heart and spirit to do. Don’t worry about the next person expecting you to do the same as you did for the last person. That kind of thinking will steal all of your joy in giving. Just purpose in your heart to give what the Holy Spirit leads you to give. And don’t just give a big gift because you have money. It really is the thought and the love that goes into a gift that matters, and that’s true no matter how rich or poor you are.

I know that there are so many other kinds of “obligation spending” that I haven’t even touched on, but I think the truth as it applies to gift giving is true in all kinds of obligation spending. Be honest with yourself and with others. Walk truly and according to what the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, and you will never find yourself in debt as a result.

I recently watched an episode of Winnie the Pooh with my kids that gave a wonderful example of obligation. In it, Rabbit has a huge surplus of watermelons and decides to give them all to Piglet. He keeps bringing over watermelons and Piglet feels obligated to take them because he doesn’t want to hurt Rabbit’s feelings. Eventually his yard is full, his house is full, and his tummy and all of his other friend’s tummies are full, and Rabbit is still bringing watermelons. Piglet finally sees the consequences for his not saying no to Rabbit. So he says, “Rabbit, thank you very much for the watermelons, but I do not want any more watermelons.” Rabbit looks shocked and hurt, and says, “You don’t want any more watermelons?” “No, I don’t,” says Piglet. And then Rabbit shakes his head and says, “I know. I don’t know what to do with them either.” And in that moment of honesty, their friendship is restored and everyone laughs and breathes a sigh of relief.

If you really love your friends and family and want to bless them, then deal with obligation in honesty. Don’t apologize for you gift. Be gracious and loving and give what you have and give it with joy. I think you will be surprised at what a liberating thing it will be for you and for your friendships when you stop spending out of obligation and begin to give according to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is so wonderfully creative and knows exactly what your friend or family need, and most of the time it is the note that comes with the gift more than the gift itself.

So what do you do when you have no birthday fund and need to buy a gift? Well, first of all you need to have a place in your budget for birthdays and gifts. If you don’t, you are just setting yourself up for failure. It is a blessing to give to your family and friends and it is even more of a blessing when you have the money set aside already and can give with joy. Don’t cry poverty if you have spent all of your surplus money on yourself and then need to buy a present. That is not honesty and your friends and family will know it. Make a plan for giving, but give what you have. If it’s coming from your heart, I promise you, it will always be enough.