A Tithing Experiment

April 15 has come and gone.  Did you get your taxes filed on time?  Have you received your refund yet?  In the past, I would get really excited about how our tax return refund was going to be spent.  We would purchase some fun items or go out for a special dinner and then use the remaining amount to bump up different savings goals.

This year I got excited that the refund amount would be approximately enough to cover our property taxes.  I write approximately because I do not yet know the exact amount of our 2015 property tax bill.  However, based on our 2013 bill, it should be enough, if not more than enough.  (You may recall from a different post that the tax return we received last year was saved for our 2014 property tax bill, a bill that we will receive later this Spring.)  You might be thinking, in a sarcastic tone, oh wow, how exciting.  Well, I truly do feel overjoyed because it means that I get to continue staying home.

Preparing your tax return may provide you with the opportunity to review your year.  If you’ve seen the Turbo Tax commercial, you may know what I’m talking about.  Did I get married?  Did I have a baby?  Where did I work?  How much money did I give to charity?  When I filed our taxes this year, I noticed something really interesting.  This past year, 2014, was the first full calendar year that I did not work.  Wait, let me rephrase that.  It was the first calendar year that I did not work outside the home.  We all know it’s hard work staying home with young children!!  (If it’s not hard work, you’re doing something wrong or you have a screw loose.)  But, I digress…

What did I observe while I was doing our tax return?  From 2013 to 2014, our income decreased by 30%, due to my exit from the workforce in November 2013.  Obviously that decrease was no surprise.  The surprise came when I compiled our information for the charitable contributions section of our filing and I observed that we gave more in 2014 than we did in 2013.  In fact, the amount we gave in 2014 was almost DOUBLE the amount we gave in 2013.  We had less money, but we gave more.  How could that be?  We were more generous when we had less to give.  I was stunned at this beautiful truth.

That little observation encouraged me to open my heart to something that had been weighing on my mind for quite some time; TITHING.  As I understand it, in its simplest terms, tithing is giving back 10% of what you have been given.  Most priests and other religious people would suggest that you break up the 10% into three parts.  Give 5% of your income to your church, 1% to your diocese and 4% to any charities or causes that you choose to support.  (Little side note: I assume that “income” means your take-home-pay.  Someone let me know in the comments if that’s not the case!)

I admit, we have not been tithing the full 10%.  Do we give to our church on a weekly basis?  Of course.  Do we give to different charities?  Yup.  However, I don’t think that the amount we’ve given in the past couple years would amount to 5% of our income.  In our first year living on one income, I was too scared to give that much away.  We had already cut our income by so much, doing what I thought was God’s will, that I just didn’t think we had any more to give.  I expressed these concerns to one of my small groups during a retreat.  One of the men in my group told me that he thought we were already tithing enough by giving up one income and having me stay home.  Of course, this man is not the authority on tithing, but it did make me feel better.  Is he right?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it was enough at that time.

A couple of weeks ago, our parish hosted a four-day evening retreat that they called our Parish Mission.  A very vibrant and engaging priest, named Father Larry Richards, gave some very interesting talks.  The topic of one of his messages was sin.  He literally stood up and rattled off a list of sins.  As he went down the list, there were really no surprises, just reminders.  Then he started talking about something that I hadn’t really thought of as a sin before: “not giving to the poor and the Church.”  Now, I believe the sin comes into play when you give away nothing.  I’m not sure if giving less than 10% is sinful, but it is certainly recommended that you give away at least 10% of what you are given.  (Once again, someone please let me know if I do not have the correct understanding.)  Father Larry went on to challenge our congregation to start tithing 10% of our income if we were not already doing so.  He suggested that we merely set a goal to tithe for just six months as a sort of experiment and just see what happens.  He, not so gently, reminded us that God would not be outdone in his generosity.

God will not be outdone in his generosity…

When we got home from the mission that night, I told my husband that the talk about tithing had really made me start considering whether or not we were being generous enough.  I told him that it had actually been weighing on me for a while, but I thought that maybe we just didn’t NEED to tithe since I wasn’t working.  But, in my heart, I just knew that this wasn’t true anymore.  Perhaps in the beginning, when living on less was brand new, we had a grace period in regards to true tithing.  But, with more than a year under our belt, I thought it was time to try this tithing experiment.  He agreed that it was something that was weighing on him as well.

That evening I set up a little tithing spreadsheet to help me calculate what we would be giving each month.  My husband’s income fluctuates because of the nature of his work.  As such, the amount that we give will vary from month to month.  I was strangely excited to move forward with this experiment.  I decided that on each payday, I would immediately take 10% of that income and put it into a checking account that we don’t use daily.  Essentially, it would be almost as if we never had the money in the first place.  Then, any donations that we would make that month would come out of that separate checking account.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt a weight lifted off of me after my husband and I agreed on this plan.  If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you know that I recently had a baby.  I’m working at getting that baby weight to go away little by little.  (I have a long way to go!)  I weigh myself weekly as part of an online Weight Watchers adventure.  Coincidentally, the day that I created my tithing excel spreadsheet was a “weigh-in” day.  Soon after explaining to my husband that I had felt a weight lifted, I stepped on the scale and found that a weight really had been lifted off of me in the literal sense.  After having some slow weight loss weeks, I had a huge loss.  And the same thing happened the following week.  It was kind of wild.  Was God’s generosity coming in the form of weight loss so that I would be able to start fitting into more of my old clothes and avoid buying new clothes?  Perhaps…

I will admit…I had already made another plan for how God would outdo our generosity.  And, that was a mistake.  Why do I always forget that God makes the plans, not me?  My husband was up for a promotion and competing against 13 others to get it.  I figured that since we were now tithing, he would of course get this promotion, right?  I mean, this was certainly how God was going to outdo our generosity.  Well, as you may have already guessed, my husband did not get the job.  It was disappointing, to say the least.  The “old me” might have thrown in the towel on this whole tithing experiment since God had not shown me his generosity in the way I would have expected.  Instead, I decided that perhaps this was a good thing.  Maybe the job was really not the right fit for my husband and our family as a whole.   Who knows!   And in the end, tithing is about GIVING without worrying what we’ll get in return.  Plus, my family and I have already been given so much.

About a month has passed since we decided to accept Father Larry’s tithing challenge.  So far, so good!  Really, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.  Once again, I have to remind myself to “be not afraid”.  Abandoning fear certainly has been a reoccurring theme in my life.   Have you picked up on that?

I’ll keep you posted on how our tithing experiment goes in about 5 months.   In the meantime, let me know what you think about tithing.  Are you starting your own tithing experiment?  Do you already tithe?  Are you a little scared to give that much like I was?  Let me know!

God bless!