Thursday, August 21, 2008


Before I post anything about what I'm reading (posts to follow very soon), I want to talk about my own experience with tithing.

For the longest time, I didn't tithe. Then about... hmmm... six or so years ago when I worked at the bank, I started tithing. I did so until my son was born in 2004 and I went part time at the bank.

For those few years when I tithed, I was proud of myself for doing so. The first few times were torturous. It wasn't that I didn't want to do it, because I did. The problem was that that left me with less disposable income to do what I wanted. But after a few months, writing that check to the church we attended at the time just became the way I did things. I wrote that check first, then paid all my bills.

I noticed over time that I worried less about money than I used to, and my attitude towards money had changed somewhat. Those are good things. I knew that by tithing, God would take care of me. Now let me explain that a bit. I wasn't expecting a tit for tat type thing - in other words, I tithe to get God to take care of me, or that God taking care of me was my reward for tithing. It was more of an attitude that I was doing the right thing and I had more assurance that God would take care of my needs, because He said He would, no matter what. The bad thing is that I was kind of cocky about it. I didn't talk about tithing very often, but when I did, I was full of myself.

After our son was born, I wanted to stay home with him full time, but that wasn't financially possible. Since I was also going to school to get my bachelor's degree, we decided that I would stay home part time and work part time. This would allow me to take some day classes that I wouldn't be able to take otherwise, and allowed us to spend less on daycare for our son. While this decision wasn't so bad while I was in school (and living on student loans), after graduation the situation was absolutely crippling financially. I hated my job, I was getting paid less then $10/hr, I was working part time, and the bank I worked for wouldn't let me go back to full time hours. I looked and looked for a job, but even with the degree I earned, there weren't very many options in this city. The longer I worked for the bank, the farther and farther behind we got in our finances. I wasn't able to pay but about half my bills and we really had nothing we could cut. I look back on that time - and it was only a year ago - and wonder how I fed my family. I'm not sure, except through the grace of God.

Needless to say, I quit tithing pretty soon after my son was born. I couldn't afford it. How could I justify giving the church 10% of my income, which could be better used buying groceries or diapers?

I felt bad about that at first, and as our finances got worse and worse, I felt more and more guilty about it, in that "well, maybe if I were tithing, the rest of this money would (magically) mercifully stretch out so that I could pay all my bills."

After I got the job I have now (which is back to full time hours), I tithed again for the first few months to the church Jeff worked at. Once again, the first few checks were hard to write, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

Then that church decided they no longer needed my husband's services, so I quit tithing again. I could have sent that money to the church where we're members (not the church he worked at), or I could have given it to the church where he was no longer employed. Forgive me for sounding bitter here, but I have a difficult time giving money to the congregation that fired my husband, and while he was employed there barely paid him a living wage (knowing that we were struggling to make ends meet) in spite of the fact that he has a master's degree, and only paid for my husband's health insurance (when he had a wife and small child to consider as well).

As I've approached this independent study, tithing has been on my mind more than any other aspect of stewardship, I think because it's what I feel guilty about. I'm not the best manager of my time, but I'm making more of an effort. I'm not really using my spiritual gifts at the moment, and haven't since I've been in school, but I think I'm where God wants me and learning all these things so that in a few years, I can go out in the world and use my gifts to do a job. I've become a better environmental steward over the past 18 months. The easiest thing for me to do is write check to a church - it takes SO little effort! - but it's still the most torturous thing I can do. So I've felt guilty about it and allowed it to weigh heavily on me.

I want to be a good steward. I want to do the best I can in all of these ways. My spirit knows it's not my money (because it all belongs to God anyway), but my head screams at me to save it, or spend it on myself, or spend it on Liam, or give it to Jeff to pay bills. I wonder if other people have this sort of fight in themselves?

But there is another part of the issue. We no longer go to church. We've been back to the church Jeff worked at (invited) and we've been back to church we're members at, and we're not comfortable in either place. I don't really have the heart or the patience to church shop right now, and frankly, I think I need a longer break than this. Here's the problem: I've always been taught that your tithe goes to your church. So where do I send this money?

I no longer believe that the tithe should always go to the church. I have a problem with paying pastors a huge salary and watching other church employees scrape by (yes, I'm bitter) while pastors drive nice cars. I have a real problem with churches thinking they need to build bigger buildings, have better facilities, and help fund the youth mission trip when there are people in this city who don't have homes or food.

Instead of funding the pastor's new car, I want to give my money to someone who needs it. I'm alright with that now, but it's taken me a few months to get to the point. A few months ago, I gave money to one of the homeless shelters in town, but now I'm thinking even smaller; after all, I live next door to a single mother of three who lives on disability and is one of the nicest people I know (she's always offering to walk our dogs - they growl at her and she loves them anyway). She doesn't own a car and relies on her friends to get her to the grocery store. I also have a friend in northern IL whose son is very sick and can't get disability (because the stupid state doesn't have a classification for his very rare disease, they won't sign off his paperwork). Nor does he have insurance. She also doesn't have a car, and they live in her little apartment on her disability income.

So why haven't I written my check yet?

As I said, the first check in torturous. But this is what I want to do, and this is what I need to work on. I can't teach people to be better stewards of their money if I'm not a good steward myself.

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