The below was written almost three years ago, when our firstborn was five years old.
This morning while folding laundry, I was struck that God trying to get us to tithe our treasure (money), time, and talent is like trying to get a little kid to fold the socks.
But, let me back up a little to explain. Lately I have been making an effort to involve the children (and particularly John, who is almost five and quite capable) in the household chores I do. For example, after I have spent time meal planning, grocery shopping, half an hour cooking, and the kids wolf down the food in ten minutes, everyone scatters, leaving me to clean the kitchen for twenty to thirty minutes. I am coming to realize that this is bad for the formation of their characters and souls, so I am trying to keep the children with me, giving them little tasks to do, while I do the bulk of the work. Then we work as a family, they learn the joy of wholesome work, I have them supervised (so they're not doing mischief), and the job is done much faster. Still, the whole time I am doing the bulk of the kitchen cleaning, John might successfully clear his plate, put away some food ingredients, and wipe the table of crumbs--that's it. He's doing a small percentage of the job. Most of this effort remains an exercise for good in principle, and I don't expect to have super useful children for some years to come.
Getting back to this morning, I was folding a large load of laundry and I asked the children to please separate out the socks, then match them. John complained, resisted, claimed he couldn't do it, and was slow, and, meanwhile I folded all the other laundry and separated it into stacks by person.
I felt exasperated and thought to myself, 'Dear child! You are expending so much energy complaining about doing the socks which are, what?, 10% of the work here? Less than that?'
The idea of ten percent really jumped out at me and I thought of tithing.
How much do we, as children of God, complain and resist about giving ten percent to Him, from whom all blessings flow? How much are we grown adults like my preschool boy with his sometimes cheerful compliance but, all too commonly, his foot-dragging, excuses, or outright complaining? Looking at myself, I see a bit too much resemblance for comfort!
What does it mean to give time to God?
Off the top of my head, he asks us to keep holy the Sabbath day. If we count just our waking hours on Sunday--and we keep the entire day holy--that's about 9% of our waking hours in a week. Do I fail to keep the day holy, and instead make it profane (unconsecrated, secular, common, vulgar) by grocery shopping, housekeeping, servile labor, or watching television or movies that are particularly not godly?
What about simply going to Mass? That's an hour on Sunday: a whole one half of one percent of all the hours in a week. Do I go every Sunday and holy day of obligation? Or skip out sometimes? Do I go with the intent of giving to God through worship? Or do I go hoping mainly to "be fed" and then complain when I "wasn't fed" (whether from poor liturgy, lack of cool entertainment, or from distractions of our own children)? Really? God sent his only Son for our salvation and re-presents His sacrifice in an unbloody manner, giving us Jesus' very Real Presence in the Eucharist for us to consume and I was not fed? I am literally fed with Jesus' very self!
And that reality doesn't take away that it can be hard to get up and go after a night awake with the baby, dressing all the children, knowing they will cause distractions, and not having a free hand to hold a missal to actually read the words in order to know what the lector is saying, whom I can't hear because I'm hushing my preschooler.
What about daily prayer at home? Do I come even close to praying to God (read: conversing with him, worshiping him, listening to him) 10% of our waking hours? I've never heard that we're asked to pray 10% of the time, but it's an interesting number to contemplate. (Actually, St. Paul in the Bible told us to "pray without ceasing"! 1 Thessalonians 5:17.)
I know that in our home, I have a prayer routine I would be doing ideally with the children. It seems so simple, yet I find it so difficult and I doubt I achieve one "perfect prayer day" per week. I've tried to keep it small:
- my own morning prayers and reading a short meditation (5 minutes),
- having the children make a Morning Offering (1 minute),
- praying the Angelus at noon (5 minutes),
- praying grace before all meals (30 seconds per meal = 1-1/2 minutes),
- praying the Rosary as a family (at a fast, adult pace, it takes about 15 minutes to pray five decades, but we get through only two decades in 15 minutes right now), and
- bedtime prayers (3 minutes).
If one has a talent or skill, even if one worked hard to cooperate with grace to develop it, the talent came from God. Who is one to hoard it?
As St. Paul said, "Who confers distinction upon you? What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
If I have a skill, what is its purpose? What am I doing with it? Am I doing for others? Maybe for someone in my season of life, doing for others is mainly going to mean doing for the people within my family. It's no good for me to absent myself from my family for lengthy periods in order to go serve food to the homeless at a soup kitchen: that would be shirking the duties God did give me in order to pick up duties he did not give me.
Each person has different circumstances, so each person can give talent in different ways. I know my perspective best these days: Thinking as a homeschooling mom of little ones who are always around, one ministry mothers in my position can do is cook. Most churches have a ministry of providing meals to women who have just had babies, the sick and bedbound, and for funerals and the grieving family left behind. We homemakers are cooking anyway with children at our feet, so just make a double batch of the meal. We can drive it over to the family and leave the kids in the car, just dropping the meal at the door. Or ask our husbands to drive over the meal. This is a useful gift of talent that takes very little away from one's duties.
We can all search our own hearts for how to share the talents God has given us.
There is a long tradition of tithing ten percent of our money to God. Also there is debate about whether it is a strict ten percent. Gross income? Net income? Respond to a radical Gospel call like certain saints and give most of our income away? Join a mendicant order in order to have no income at all?
Amidst all the debate is a one certain thing and that is resistance to donate away our income. Surely God didn't mean my actual money. Aren't I "donating to charity" when I give away my old stuff I don't want anymore to the Goodwill thrift store? I know: when I die, I'll give away some of my leftover, not-used-up assets to a nice charity, and that will be good.
God had a lot to say about Bible, which he gave to us in Holy Scriptures. A lot. And it's pretty uncomfortable to read with modern eyes.
This is an interesting list of Scripture (from a Protestant Bible, so double-check against Catholic sources) divided by monetary sub-topic. Chris and I really like Dave Ramsey's financial program and he says that there are more than 800 Scripture quotes about money.
I can recommend a book I recently read: "Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom" by Fr. Thomas Dubay. Personally, I found it to be one of those "scary books." I began reading it probably a year ago and, when I could not come up with any arguments to counter the unceasing barage of Gospel teaching about money (paired with a long tradition of Church teaching and interpretation), I set down the book. I didn't want any more guilt in my heart and, apparently, I didn't want to make radical changes either. Recently I was able to pick up the book again and finish it.
But then I put it back on the shelf just to sit for a while. Away from me. I am a work in progress.