When Mary Ward and I started tithing – giving 10% of our monthly income to the church – it really hurt. The check that I wrote each month, as it continues to be, was our largest expenditure. More than our car payment, more than our housing, that 10% gift to the church was and is a lot of money. And when we first started doing that intentional giving, it really hurt. I would look at that check and see how much more it was than my other checks, I would look at our debt and lack of savings, and I knew that money could be helping us get on better financial footing. But I was a new priest and it seemed right to do what the church taught, especially since I was now doing the teaching.
The first few months I wrote that check (does anybody actually write checks anymore?) I kept looking at the amount and pouting. I read something in scripture about God loving a cheerful giver. Well, in me, he had a giver but there was nothing cheerful about it. It felt like a big sacrifice and I didn’t like making it. My pride was a little bigger than my resentment, though, so I kept making the gift each month when I got my paycheck. I read about people saying how, when they started tithing, they immediately were rewarded with some new influx of money. That was not my experience: I had a whole lot less money.
After a while, maybe a couple of years, I didn’t pout each time I made the gift. It became a habit. Still I wasn’t all that cheerful but at least I wasn’t resentful and I eventually quit thinking about what else that money might buy me if I didn’t give it to the church. Later on, some years later, it got to be fun. Making that gift actually became exciting as I thought about how much the church needed the gift and how good it felt to be making a significant contribution to the work of God instead of just my own lifestyle. Today that monthly gift doesn’t cause resentment, nor does it particularly cause excitement either. It’s just now a regular part of our financial world. Now it just feels peaceful and right as any positive habit will feel after decades of practicing it.
Making sacrifices for others is part of what being a mature adult is all about. Spouses make sacrifices for each other. Parents make sacrifices for their children. Children, if their parents live long enough, come to make sacrifices for their parents. For society to work effectively we make sacrifices for each other. We pay taxes so that we and others may have police officers and firefighters, roads and water, schools and institutions which will help us all grow. Sometimes just being polite to someone at the grocery store or in traffic feels like a big sacrifice but we learn that it is good for our needs to be put behind the needs of others. As we make those sacrifices we come to respect others more and we become less self-absorbed, more accepting of others as fellow human beings.
The church doesn’t ask for many sacrifices. At a place like St John’s so much is offered to us while not all that much is required of us. When the church asks for you to make intentional, regular, and substantial financial gifts – when we ask you to give 10% of your financial resources – it’s one of the few times we actually ask you to make a sacrifice. The promise is that, after it hurts for a while, it will lead to excitement and peacefulness.
Most people’s financial lives – even or maybe especially wealthier people – are chaotic and anxiety ridden. Those who are living beyond their means – perhaps with expensive vacations, luxurious cars and boats, vacation homes, football tickets and trips, exorbitant spring break trips – and ignoring giving and saving, are really living like a common addict. They’re guilt-ridden and shame-filled. They know their lives are being wasted but they just keep on with their unhealthy behavior until they crash. If you’re spending more on your entertainment than you are on God’s work in the world, you’re headed for a fall.
A wonderful formula for financial peace is to give 10% of your financial resources to the church, put 9% into savings or investments, and live off the other 81%. If that’s not enough for you to live, you’re spending too much on something: your house is too big, or your entertainment needs are out of line, or you’ve come to confuse things you want with things you need. Giving money away is vital for your spiritual and emotional health. Saving money – a little less than you give – creates some peace about the future. Living within your means – that which is left over after giving and saving – creates a mature adult who is adding to the world instead of taking away from it.
Most of what I write to you has to do with prayer discipline and spiritual practices. Tithing falls within that realm. It’s vital to your health – spiritual, emotional, physical. And it makes the church and the world a better place.
Giver or taker? Which are you? Which do you want to be?
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Special Events Around the Corner
Blessing of the Animals – October 1 at 5:00 pm
Evensong – October 15 at 4:00 pm
Halloween Carnival – October 25 at 6:00 pm
Grounds Clean Up Day – November 5 at noon
Ordination to the Priesthood for Jamie Osborne – November 11 at 11:00 am
Bazaar – November 15
Stop Hunger Now – November 26 – need 100 volunteers!