It happens sometimes as I’m sure it does with everyone when somebody says something we just know we’ll always remember. I only have two in the forefront of my mind at the moment, but one was my very faithful friend muttering to herself “I could pay my bills if it weren’t for tithing.”
How can she SAY that!?
I tried to tell myself it certainly wasn’t because there was any bit of truth to it. Nonono. It was because everyone knows that if you pay your tithing you’ll be able to pay your bills. That’s just how it works.
But I knew deep down her offhand, innocent (albeit frustrated) comment stung with truth. Sure she always seemed to make it somehow, but she had to go on government assistance to do so. What is the logic in that? Eric and I always had to go on government assistance and take money from our savings. Savings is supposed to be…well, savings. More times than not we couldn’t follow both admonitions of the church to save a little and pay tithing (not to mention the kid situation). Inevitably the money we’d place in savings each week would have to come back out so we could buy food.
And now? Forget it. We’re in a house now – for my sanity, mind you – so rent is more expensive, but as a first year teacher Eric is making just as much as he was before. I know we *could* move back into an apartment, but I’ve just spent the last seven years of my life in an apartment, six of them pregnant and/or with kids. Apartments are not for the faint of heart and I needed space. The kids needed space. We could never afford more than a two bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer, and with prices the way they were it just made more sense to get a house.
I assure you we lucked out finding the place we’re in now, but it’s still too much to have everything else in its proper tithing envelope.
Could we live in poverty and pay our tithing? Erm, maybe. But I don’t want to.
And before anyone gets up in arms about this, tithing was never, ever, ever an issue for me until this past six to twelve months. I moved out of my parents’ home working for an unstable retailer. Somehow I still made rent and had more money at the end of the month than my roomie who also paid tithing but loved to spend.
I attributed my success to tithing.
Then four years ago, Eric and I received what I still refuse to deny as a divine impression to have a third baby. We had no idea how we were to do this. The store he worked at announced promotions would be next to impossible to get and he probably wouldn’t receive any more pay raises. And we only had a little sedan, so we’d need a van for sure. And we’d have to move – I wouldn’t make it without our own washer and dryer. Ideally I wanted a third bedroom, but the laundry situation was horrific and it came down to one or the other and laundry won. This would mean a rent increase of at least one to two hundred dollars. Despite all of this, we decided to heed the revelation and toss birth control to the wind. I became pregnant.
Not too much later, we found if we applied for our very first school loan we could use that as a down payment for a car, so that’s what we did. We bought a van no problem. Then one of the head clerks at the store decided he didn’t want to be head clerk anymore, and since the boss really liked Eric she let him have the job. Two days a week and more if opportunity allowed, Eric was head clerk and made $6 more an hour - $9 more an hour on Sundays and holidays. Helloooo miracle!
Then came this past summer. Our struggles with the church had reached a point where we just didn’t go to church if we didn’t feel like it. We still paid tithing, but grudgingly. We stopped being so orthodox about it, paying it on absolutely every little thing – birthday money gifts, financial aid (we weren’t comfortable anymore with the fact that it’s illegal to do so). I couldn't stand having Abbie pay it. I don't know why - she didn't want to and I just felt horrible about it all. I really goofed up when I thought she should pay on her birthday money. That didn't seem right. Anyway, we still paid it on income though and considered knocking it down to net income rather than gross, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do that.
And yet, Eric still landed this amazing job here. We still found this great house with great rent.
(and yes, I am so knocking on wood. We’re told we’re okay job wise – he’s the only math teacher at his school with a single subject credential and math degree. That said, shit happens. God has a sense of humor and I can’t help but feel I am testing him here, though I’m unsure if this is learned superstition or not. I have much faith in life working out the way its supposed to)
When it came to moving to another city, we knew we’d be changing banks too. For a while we had our cash in two different places and all our tithing money…well, it was a mess. We decided to wait to pay until we got our cash situation figured out, but deep down in that place we call honesty, we really weren’t sure we wanted to pay.
I kept thinking of the scriptures which stated God cared about the heart, about the intention. Are you good to get your reward or good because you want to be good, because you are good? Do you pay your tithing with pure intention or because of obligation and/or blessings?
We were paying because we were scared not to. We felt obligated. Where it had never been an issue before, it was suddenly an issue. I told Eric I didn’t want to refuse to pay tithing because of money, and he agreed (we’d always been okay before), but that’s what we finally concluded. I thought about the many times we had to dip into savings. Had we always had savings? For the most part – there were scary times. But more and more it didn’t make sense to go on government assistance when we paid tithing. Really, tithing can make it impossible for some to be truly self-reliant. I *hated* WIC with a passion. It made little sense to me when there were people who needed it more than we did, people who didn’t have tithing to pay. It just felt wrong and embarrassing.
So, we stopped. I still worry about it, you know, losing blessings, but so far we’ve done well for ourselves. I don’t think God is going to abandon us, because we're trying. We're searching. The church is just fine without us (I mean c’mon, that mall they bought in 2005? The 2007 $1 billion downtown renovation project?). Tithing is not for God or his Church anymore. Neither need it. It's about faith, they say, and our faith was waning before our tithing was. I thought perhaps we should pay it if we were to continue attending church, but at the moment we’re not sure we want to for much longer. Our money in the meantime is going toward other causes as we can afford it.
That’s the other thing: Fast Offering. Why is it not okay for us to take what would be our fast offering and give it to a charity of our choice? Naw. No more of that. I appreciate what the church does but hate that it requires it to be the middleman. That doesn’t seem right. Once I wanted to help a friend – a single parent going to school – to buy her books. She fell on rough times, but I was told I couldn’t take my fast offering to do that. It killed because I couldn't help her otherwise. She was taken care of, sure, but the idea never truly sat right.
Anyway, life goes on. I worry and know perhaps later we’ll change our minds. Right now it’s not feasible to pay it, and trust me I know the arguments and I know how ridiculous it sounds to many members for me to say that. “How can you afford not to pay tithing?” is the common refrain. Hell, people, I’ve said it before.
But we can’t. Not without dipping into savings or going on assistance, and so we don’t. I don't advocate everyone neglecting to pay – please know this blog is not meant to be a pulpit – but for us this is what it is, and I’m okay with that.
It is interesting how life still goes on much as it did before, with things working out much as they’re working out for anybody else. It’s just not as scary. Living in fear just isn’t worth it to me anymore.
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