There’s something appealing about leftovers. It’s fun to dig around in the refrigerator and search for what might be there. Mainly it’s a relief not to have to plan what we’re going to have. And it certainly appeals to me economically: I feel like I’m eating for free. After all, if we don’t eat it tonight, we’ll just have to throw it out. Leftovers don’t take any thought or effort. Occasionally something actually tastes better after it sits in the back of the refrigerator a while, but usually leftovers are an attempt to save some trouble. We’ll just have leftovers. It’s an apology of sorts.
I wonder if God gets tired of our leftovers. That’s usually when we turn to God, when we’ve tried everything else. That’s usually when we pray, when we have some time left over. Much of our monetary giving to God certainly qualifies as leftovers. After we’ve met our obligations and done what we want to do, then we think about what we might have left to offer to God.
Some of our parish statistics bear this out. December, far and away, is the month in which we receive the largest amount of financial gifts. 25% of our annual income, in fact, is typically received in December. People just wait until the last month to pay their pledges. We’re used to the calls near the end of the year with the question, How much do I owe on my pledge? Were it not for that large influx of giving in December, we’d be sunk, so we’re always grateful. But sometimes it’s pretty clear that our gifts to the church are no different in our minds than any other bill we pay. We make a pledge and then put off meeting the pledge as long as we can. December comes and we ante up. It’s a relief to meet the obligation. But I imagine God wants more than relief from us.
January, by contrast, is usually the month in which we receive the least amount of money. We’ve just made our pledges but we have the whole year to pay, so there’s no rush. We’ll get to it later. The summer months are poor receipt months too. We’re traveling a lot so we don’t think about the Church. Maybe we don’t even think about God much either. There’s so much to do with the family and scheduling time away from work is a chore. So our giving takes a vacation. We’ll make it up later.
Lots of times we forget how much we’ve said we’d give. There are those calls mid-year: How much did I say I would give this year? I wonder if we might remember better if the amount was larger.
Our Christian faith encourages us to give first to God, then to make do with what is left. Scripture speaks of giving the first fruits to God. The first of the harvest is to be offered in joy. The first-born of the herd is to be given in gratitude. Sacrificing animals makes no sense anymore. But sacrificial giving continues to have great meaning. God gets the best and the first. We live off the leftovers ourselves rather than giving to God what may remain. It’s more than obligation. It teaches us the truth of faith: as we give our best to God, we learn to trust God to take care of us and provide for us. We offer gifts first to God, depend on God for our well-being, and learn there is enough for us to make it.
Occasionally my wife has informed me I have fallen into the habit of giving her only what is left over. Having to do something with her because I haven’t done anything in a while frankly isn’t much fun. But there’s real delight when the relationship is a priority and I give to it above other things I have to do. God calls to us in a similar way: this doesn’t have to be drudgery; our love can be exciting and meaningful.
God wants more from us, more with us. Turn it around and see what happens in your own faith. Give to God first rather than last. Put that at the top of the list instead of hiding from it and paying up only when the deadline arrives or praying only when you are backed into a corner. Step into the joy of sacrificial giving of your time and resources. There’s plenty left over for you after that. Trust God to provide. What else in the world could faith be about but giving our best and trusting God?
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.