Millennia hadn’t quelled the ancient word, which meant to give ten percent of one’s earnings to the church. Followers of Jesus Christ still bandied the term about, but although I shared their faith, whenever the topic arose, my stomach soured. I had heard too many sermons on the subject. And they all sounded like thinly-veiled fundraising pleas—and as pleasant as sleeping on a broken-down futon.
“Think of it this way,” a speaker once said, “God lets you keep ninety percent.”
“You’re not tied to just the ten percent,” said one teacher. “You can give more.”
“When you don’t tithe, you’re robbing God,” said another pastor.
Other preachers slipped the subject into pretty frames, edged with the promise of blessings, but I still heard the same message amplified by their microphones: Should. Should. Should. Parishioners in discussion groups quibbled over the ins and outs of the discipline: “Do you tithe off the gross or the net?” “Do you have to give to the local church, or is it okay to give to other ministries?” My attitude bristled even more.
“The tithe is an Old Testament concept,” one of my friends said with a wave of her hand. “It’s all about grace now. Whatever you give is the right amount.”
Varied human opinions echoed through my thoughts. But what was true?
As our home’s holder of the purse strings, I thought about money daily. And I clutched our family’s finances to my chest, squeezing our checkbook close. Whenever I paid the bills, the niggling should of the ten percent entered the equation, but it felt like one more obligation. Another payment. And there was never enough money. Guilt seeped in. Maybe next time.
I donated my time and energy to good causes without a second thought. And I loved surprising someone in need with the occasional financial gift. So why did a regular tithe feel like wearing a scratchy wool sweater in July?
I picked up the phone and dialed the most generous person I knew. Maybe she had some answers.
“It’s about a heart that’s willing to give something up. It’s about trust.” I heard a smile in Mom’s voice on the other end of the line. “And when you give away your money, just wait and see what happens.”
Mom’s biggest delight was giving to those in need, and her words infused me with motivation. But the next time I sat down to pay the bills, reality happened, and our needs and “needs” gobbled up our funds.
I took my struggle to the mat and sat in the presence of the One who owned it all. I wanted to give like Mom and live with open hands in every way. What was holding me back?
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
A picture of a bicycle formed in my mind. Maybe the tithe wasn’t The Ten Percent after all, but instead, a set of training wheels—an invitation to something bigger. Maybe it was a gift to us—a place to get us started on the wildest adventure of our lives.
Suddenly, freedom blew my hair back, and the winds were nothing like the dictates gusted from pulpits and Sunday school classrooms throughout my life. It was time to take my placid walk of faith off-road. It was time to really ride.
The next Sunday in church, excited nervousness bubbled up inside me. The offertory began and soon the familiar brass plate made its rounds, gliding between worshipers’ hands until it came to me.
I stifled a smile. Joy had replaced duty, and anticipation had kicked out burden.
I dropped a check into the plate. Let's do this, God.
And the training wheels came off for good.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.