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Lessons from Jane Austen

3 tips on powerful stewardship from the pages of classic literature

"Badly done, Bethany! Badly done!" I glared at my 16-year-old daughter who'd just made the dreaded mistake of asking for me to pay for yet another tank of gas in her car for the third time in two weeks.

She rolled her eyes, "Emma, right? Mom, would you stop quoting Jane Austen and let me know if you'll pay for the gas so my friends and I can go to Six Flags or not?"

I knew I'd help with gas so that my "Bunny" girl could drive her youth group to the theme park. But she didn't know this, so before yielding, I gave her a parting Austen quote: "The real evils, indeed, of [Bunny's] situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself."

"Thanks, Mom, I have great self esteem. Now can I have $45?"

Sometimes, even Jane Austen cannot help.

Reading Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, or Sense and Sensibility is a source of escape to me. The simple stewardship people exercised in those days is a lesson we can learn from today. Some say that Austen lived an austere life compared to our own. Granted, the benefits of a modern society, like indoor plumbing and efficient transportation—cannot be overrated. Yet, I think we can take notes from Austen on living a simple life where stewardship, thrift, and generosity were the valued qualities. Actually, the principles Austen exercised didn't originate in the 18th century, they go back to biblical times. We can learn stewardship lessons that have relevance in our lives today.

Dear, There's No Place Like Home. Most of Austen's novels centered around home and hearth, and the characters knew how to take care of family. First Timothy 5:8 tells us, "But if any provide not for his own, and specifically for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever." As we model generosity in front of our family, they learn the value of providing for their own family one day. Yes, there's a balance between giving too little or too much and it's all right to put conditions on where and how you choose to give. But as we ask God for wisdom, I believe he will guide our financial decisions.

Debt Isn't Good Stewardship. In Austen's day it was called "retrenching" and it was an ugly embarrassment for any respectable family to be forced to live in another location or with fewer amenities because of their excessive debt. A major part of stewardship involves staying free of debt for the specific purpose of being able to give when the need arises. If you want to spend $25 a month to adopt a child with World Vision, but your credit card minimums won't let you follow that desire, then you're a servant to that debt. Proverbs 22:7 says, "The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender."

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