I love the idea of tithing. It reminds me that money is just money–and if I can’t give it away then I don’t own it, it owns me. It’s a wonderful reminder to set aside a percentage of my income to help those around me who are in a rough patch. It makes me a better person to think outside of myself and fight any latent financial greediness that might creep up on me in the long term.
At the same time, I’ve had a complex relationship with tithing the past three years.
Some background: I have told my husband that the money he earns can be tithed in whatever way he feels is right, and that I would tithe my own income according to my own convictions.
Usually, during these past three years, my conviction has been that I would not give my tithing directly to the church via slip and envelope–mostly because I felt uncomfortable with the possibility that my money could be used to financially support certain things that I find spiritually wrong and in much need of change. Instead, I have been taking approximately that same 10% and donating it anonymously to a particular family who was struggling or a particular cause that I felt inspired to contribute to.
At first, I thought I would feel incredibly guilty about this, even though I knew I couldn’t bring myself to use the slip-envelope route anymore. I was afraid that I would feel guilt if I did, and guilt if I didn’t! Double bind!
However, to my surprise, I really haven’t felt guilt or shame at all (caveat: except for if and when my mother asks me pointed and specific questions that make me feel forced to hedge). On the contrary, I’ve felt more in touch with the principle of tithing than I ever have in my entire life. I think part of it is the knowledge that it truly is my very own absolute and very conscious choice–devoid of feeling obligated to do it because I have to or just because it was the thing that “is done”.
Also, I’ve really had some wonderful experiences in the process of finding worthy causes and this has made me more open, to use my native Mormon parlance, to “promptings of the holy spirit.” I feel, often, that my money may actually be helping many people faster and more directly than it could have if I had given via slip-and-envelope. It has been a good, humbling, bright three years.
Another interesting outcome of this system, for me, has been the realization that I no longer expect these donations of mine to give me any sort of “security” blessings. (I’ll let you judge for yourself if you think that’s good or bad. I think it was good for me, personally, for the following reasons.) We often hear or read articles in the Ensign about how, if one pays tithing to the church, they will be given a (probable) guarantee that they won’t starve/lose their house/be unemployed anymore. I am, in no way, trying to say that these miracles don’t happen–but I do know that they aren’t a guarantee either. Not by a long shot.
I think that when I used to slip-and-envelope tithe, I always had that possibility in the back of my mind: “I’m giving this, but I’m totally going to get it all back in some way–whether financially or “blessings”-y. Maybe with interest!” This, ironically, actually made me more selfish and greedy, I think, since I expected to not actually have to lose any “net” income/blessings in the long run. Sometimes, I think, I even saw it as an investment plan. This is an easy trap that I believe many can fall into with some of the rhetoric that can surround this principle.
Now, however, I find that my donations are anonymous and freely given and nothing more. I don’t expect to get any tithing settlement pat on the back like I used to, for example. This has been a good paradigm shift for me. A difficult one at times, but a good one.
Again, if you feel like I’m trying to say that anyone who pays tithing the traditional way has these same faults that I did, then please know that’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure that there are many people who pay tithing to the church and never get any sort of “I get a gold star” feeling when they run through their contributions with their bishop (like I did). On the contrary, it probably makes a lot of really good people kind of uncomfortable, I’d imagine. I’m just being honest about how I felt and thought and I think that perhaps I may not be completely alone.
I’m also not meaning to degrade anyone else’s experience with “traditional” tithing payment. I can totally get how many people find it similarly enlightening, an incredibly good cause (perhaps even the greatest cause), and a spiritual practice that makes them stronger. If the slip-and-envelope is your cup-of-tea, then kudos to you. Really.
But, if you’re someone like me who has needed, at some point or another, to find a “tithing workaround,” then I’m curious about what your solutions and experiences were. I’m wondering if I’m just a really, crazy-weird character or if this “personalization” might actually be more common. So:
Have you ever “personalized” (for lack of a better word) your tithing practices? How did you structure your tithe? For what reason did you create a workaround from the official routes? What was your experience with your workaround?