Bible verses, pop culture

Tithing on a Tight Budget

As you may or may not know, I’m kind of a crazy lady when it comes to money.

Back when I was the ripe young age of 25, I decided if I’m going to be a wife, a mother, a retiree, and at the very least a dead person with relatives needing money to bury me someday, I should understand finances. As a nurse I see people all the time who try to take care of themselves at home for much too long before coming for medical evaluation. I decided to stop my home care financial planning and go for financial evaluation. I met with a financial planner and really started budgeting using Excel documents.  I eventually ditched the financial planner (mostly because we disagreed about the importance of expense ratios on index funds) but still budget regularly on Mint.com.

Despite appearing to be a semi-professional at money management, I must confess that since starting graduate school and cutting my hours at work, it’s been uber hard lately.

First of all, everything involved with examining one’s finances is difficult. There’s such an emotional component to saving money for a future you deeply desire (ahem, hubby and kiddos) but aren’t sure will happen (ahem, perpetually single). And there’s a component of seeing that you’re mis-using money as stress relief (ahem, amazon.com).

And then there’s a component of feeling like you never have enough (ahem, bills, bills, bills). Money is one of those things that you feel like you never have enough of. I think my salary is great!..until I hear one of my co-workers is making more. I think my travel budget is great!..until I see one of my friends take a more extravagant trip. I think my budget is going great!..until I see how little I have left in every category at the end of the month.

Yet, we all feel like we don’t have enough no matter how much money we make.

Even when I have a good paycheck when I picked up extra hours on off shifts, I still feel like I don’t have enough. And that’s when I was working full time! Now, I have all the same responsibilities I had as a full-time employee now on a part-time salary (with full-time benefits though!) while paying for school out of pocket!

So, how the heck am I supposed to tithe? My tiny contribution is not going to do very much. I make maybe $2000 a month after taxes on a really good month where I work extra. After rent, food, gas, bills, insurance, tuition, etc. there’s not an incredible amount left.

Yet, I know tithing is essential. I’ve gone to enough Masses where the homily is the diocese annual appeal. I’ve heard Gospels enough like this:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Matthew 6:19-21

I get it. Really, I get it. But I don’t feel like I have enough as it is, so how the heck am I supposed to tithe?

Better yet, what’s the point?

I give my time in service every day at work! I give my talents at work and home. I volunteer. I’m active in the community. Why is tithing such a big deal? Can’t I just invest that money and make a big donation when I die? Isn’t that worth more?

I’ve been grappling with such questions in my heart when I met with one of my dear friends in town about donating monthly for his ministry. Pete is easily one of the holiest men I have even known, and his marriage to his wife and my dear friend is total #relationshipgoals. I knew walking into the meeting I had maybe $25 a month to give, a pathetic amount in my book.

$25 was a lot of carve out, however. Starting grad school, I had to cut back on my donations to my FOCUS and Brew City Catholic missionaries. These wonderful men and women literally survive off of their monthly donations, and I had to abruptly cut their donations and even end donations to two fantastic women. I had to stop donating to my amazing parish from undergrad, St. Paul’s.  I was feeling pretty crummy about my ability to support.

But as Pete told me about his work with Arise Milwaukee, where the organization came from, and where it hopes to grow, it was quite evident that he cared more about my prayerful support than my financial support. Tithing, fundraising, donations, whatever, is really not about money even though it involves money. Giving away a part of what I own is really about my heart and my relationship with God and with the organization.

As my favorite author Henri Nouwen wrote in his little gem of a book Spirituality of Fundraising (which is a free PDF if you click the link):

Whether they have much or little is not as important as the possibility of making their money available to God. When Jesus fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, he was showing us how God’s love can multiply the effects of our generosity (see Matt. 14:13-21). God’s Kingdom is the place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world (see 2 Cor. 9:10-15).

When fundraising as ministry calls people together in communion with God and with one another, it must hold out the real possibility of friendship and community. People have such a need for friendship and for community that fundraising has to be community building. I wonder how many churches and charitable organizations realize that community is one of the greatest gifts they have to offer. If we ask for money, it means that we offer a new fellowship, a new brotherhood, a new sisterhood, a new way of belonging. We have something to offer—friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, ministry with those in need, and these things are so valuable that people are willing to make their resources available to sustain them. Fundraising must always aim to create new, lasting relationships.

– Henri Nouwen, Spirituality of Fundraising

Pete demonstrated to me a true spirituality of fundraising. He knows the importance of relationship and desired more that I came to know and love this organization he is so passionate about than for me to keep them afloat financially. Because, really, no single grad student with barely any money is going to keep any organization singlehandedly afloat.

Our conversation gave my meager $25 a month the importance it really deserves. $25 when everything in my life seems tight and expensive is a large chunk to willingly give away! But giving that small portion of money is an important habit.

As Charles Duhigg discusses in The Power of Habit, financial planning can be a keystone habit that naturally produces other good habits. Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng of Macquarie University in Sydney found who began a 4-month financial monitoring program performed better on self-control, smoke less, drank less alcohol, ate better, and exhibited less stress.

Though I have no study to prove it, in the same way, a habit of tithing can be a keystone habit that naturally produces other good habits. I started tithing right out of college, mostly because I had close friends who were FOCUS missionaries who encouraged me to give away a little that I owned to support them. Their spirituality of fundraising inspired a spirituality of generosity.

Since I really dove into a habit of tithing, I’ve found my spiritual life has grown immensely. I’m more open to trusting that God will provide (because even when I thought I’d be broke from tithing, I’ve been OK). I’m less attached to certain habitual sins that used to plague me constantly (but let’s be real, I’m very far from perfect). And I put tithing at the front of my finances, and I’ve consequently placed a greater emphasis on God being at the front of my life.

Now I’m not saying tithing alone can make us a perfect Christian, but it does help. And I’m not saying money is evil. It’s just our disproportionate attachment to it can be.

So, even though it’s painful and a part of me always worries I won’t have enough, I’ve been tithing on my tight budget. As I’ve been figuring out my scheduled tithing for the next year this month, I’ve been really pushing myself to be as generous as my meager means allow.

However, generosity is not limited to how much money I can give away. I’ve learned volunteering, getting a friend who needs a pick me up a coffee, sending cards and love notes, doing extra chores, etc. are great ways to show generous charity in ways that my money cannot.

And let’s be honest, volunteering is fun. It’s been my New Year’s resolution to volunteer monthly, and my volunteering let’s me do cool things like this:

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The Book of Wisdom summarizes tithing the best:

With each contribution show a cheerful countenance,
and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy.
Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously, according to your means.

For the LORD is one who always repays,
and he will give back to you sevenfold.

Sirach 35:11-13

 

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