Practicing Financial Sabbath

One of the ways we build faith is to live into our values more fully and completely as we grow. Recently I was inspired by meeting someone who has made radical changes to live more fully into his values. 

When our family began working with a new therapist, he astounded me when he explained that he was in the midst of a “Tax Holiday”–he would not accept any payments for his work between Independence Day and Election Day. He wanted to decrease his income so that he would pay less in taxes. This was his thoughtful, faithful response to the US government’s decision to separate families at our southern border. I wanted to know more!

Creating Weekly Financial Sabbaths

When I asked Therapist Rob Womack about how this financial faithfulness began, he tells the story of starting smaller.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but the very first step I ever took that eventually led to the possibility of a Tax Holiday was a sort of fast or Sabbath.  I called it a ‘snow day’.  Around 2015 or 2016, I began taking one day each week where I neither spent money nor earned money, nor frequented a location where spending or earning was taking place.

Usually, on Sundays, I would spend the day disengaged from all commercial activities.  This simple practice began to create a little space in my imagination for what life could be like if Americans weren’t so caught up in accumulating wealth and consuming material goods.”

I thought I might get caught up in the minutia of a Financial Sabbath and get distracted from the intent of the day.  I wondered if that ever happened to Mr. Womack. He responded, “If your vehicle needs gas or your kitchen needs food, then try to get those on a day before the Sabbath begins. A person could make this as rigorous or lenient as they like. I would always go to the library the Saturday before to get whatever books I wanted for the week, since employees earn income there. But I do remember having a gift card to a cafe and using it on a Financial Sabbath day even though spending and earning was taking place there. I was diligent but not dogmatic about it. I practiced choosing to break the Sabbath without having to extend forgiveness to myself.  For example, I love going to Durham Bulls games on Sundays when games begin earlier in the day and kids get to run the bases after the games. I might buy my ticket on Saturday and enjoy the game in the sunshine on a Sunday.” 

  • What might it be like for you, for a season, to practice a weekly financial sabbath — a day where you did not earn or spend money or go to any place where spending/earning happens?  
  • What boundaries might you start with for a financial sabbath, and how would you extend yourself grace? (Can you watch Netflix? Go to the library where workers are paid? etc.)
  • How will you need to think ahead to prepare for your weekly financial sabbath?

Know Your Spending/Reduce Your Spending

Mr. Womack also shared the importance of having a clear picture of what you spend, “For several years I have closely monitored my expenses.  I had a good idea of how much I needed to earn in order to meet my expenses and sustain myself throughout a year’s time.”  For him, simply knowing what he spent was not the fullness of this practice.  His faithful response to money also includes lowering his spending as much as possible so that he participates less in consumerist culture, “Logistically, it is helpful to get a handle on how much money one needs and to work to lower that in all categories.”

When he knew what he spent, he began looking for ways he could spend less, “I strive to lower my expenses as much as I am able. This practice of living simply relieves the strain this economy places on us as individuals and as a society as well as on the environment at large. The less I spend, the less I consume, and the more relief is brought to the planet and people.”

  • What difference would it make if you began thinking of a reduction in spending not as a “tightening of your belt” but rather as a faith-filled response to relieving the strain on the environment, society, and your life?

Making Time to Live in God’s Economy

Whether it was by a weekly Financial Sabbath or a longer Tax Holiday, Mr. Womack found ways within his current life to practice living in God’s Economy. He describes God’s Economy as one “where all material, energy, and work has been freely given to be equally shared by all of Life on the planet. No one is told they cannot have their needs met simply because they don’t have enough money. We do our best to meet each other’s needs while limiting our own so that everyone is cared for.”

  • Imagine your household creating a way to spend some time living in God’s Economy.  What might that look like in your situation? 
  • What would you need to do to prepare? 
  • How might you like to try on this practice?

To learn a bit more about these practices, read a longer article, Radically Living Your Values.

Editor’s Note: In some professions, such as health care, it may not be legal to give away services that you bill the government for in other patients.

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