It is always amazing to me that when Orchard Supply Hardware has their "We pay the sales tax" weekends, their parking lot is packed from open to close for the whole weekend. Really? The entire South Bay drops everything to save less than 10% on hardware and the like? There is a part of me that understands though. I like to save money. I keep coupons in my car so I have them when I get to any store. When OSH advertises "we pay the sales tax," part of me thinks "Stay away from there this weekend - too crowded" while another part of me is contemplating which home repair projects I have waiting in the wings that I might shop for this weekend just to save a bit on something I know I am going to buy anyway. And I do mean save a bit... eight and a half percent savings almost isn't even noticeable at the register.
This weekend, I have been contrasting the "we pay the sales tax" phenomenon with my feelings about our annual stewardship campaign at church, and while it difficult to describe, I can happily say that I am more excited about filling out my pledge card than I am about any possible savings at the hardware store. This wasn't always the case, however, so I have been reflecting on the growth in my own giving, and I share my story in the hopes that it can help others consider their feelings about giving generously.
A few years back, I decided that I wanted our family to work toward tithing. At the time, this goal seemed nearly impossible. We had been giving regularly to the church, pledging and writing our check on a monthly basis. When I looked at the percentage of my income that I was offering each month though, it hardly registered on any scale. To get to the place where I was giving 10% of even just my income, let alone my husband's too, seemed to be a future with flying cars and interplanetary vacations. So I did what I do when the task seems too large - I broke it down. I decided that if I couldn't give 10%, I could at least increase my pledge by 10% each year so that I was taking significant steps to reach a tithe. I figured at that rate I might have a chance of reaching my tithing goal while cars were still driving on roads.
Now I am not always the most disciplined person, but I am goal-oriented and this new goal brought a sense of direction to my giving and I no longer agonized over my pledge card each fall. Instead, I simply added 10% to the pledge I had made the year before and signed my name. Some years the 10% increase made me gulp, but it always felt like the right decision. Even better was the feeling I got each month when I wrote the check to the church. Even when it was a financial struggle or a step in faith, it felt right.
At the time I started intentionally increasing my giving, I wasn't giving much more to the church than I was paying for our average PG&E bill each month. When I divided that amount by four and considered what my family gained from the church each week, it did not seem nearly enough to cover the value I placed on our worship together and my son's spiritual education. I felt good about giving more to help honor the value I attributed to our faith community. It meant that maybe I stopped at Starbucks one less time per month, but I felt like our faith fellowship was more important than any single comfort food.
Years later, I continue to feel a sense of joy and purpose as I arrange for our electronic payment to the church each month, and I was happy to fill out my pledge card yesterday and increase my giving by 10% again. Now my monthly pledge is maybe more equivalent to all of my utility bills combined, but I think about it in the same way. As much as I appreciate having satelite TV service in my home as well as the regular water, electricity, gas and garbage, I value the faithful fellowship and mission outreach of my church much more than my cell phone or internet speed. I treasure the ways that my family is growing in faith and service to the world much more than the two less quick dinners we will eat out each month - and I love getting out of the kitchen!
Perhaps more importantly, however, I feel like my heart has been set free to give. While I still love getting a good deal, I am much more joyful at the opportunity to share generously what I have with people or organizations I care about. Instead of holding tightly to each penny, I feel like faithfully giving has opened my heart and brought me peace. This is not to say that the financial implications of our faith giving have always been easy. When my husband took a cut in pay last year, I considered keeping our pledge even for a year in response. Again though, it came down to what I treasure most, and the faith and hope I place in God. If things were going to be tight for me, then they were also tight for others, and I knew that people would need the ministry of the church even more. How could I even think of holding back my portion? You know what? It all worked out. And we continue toward our goal of tithing, feeling the hope and joy of life lived celebrating the blessings in our lives and the ways we can be a blessing to others.
Have we met our goal of tithing both incomes? Not yet. But we're about halfway there, and while I saw an ad for a Jetsons-like watch last week, I still haven't heard that cars are going to fly any time soon. I think we'll make it well before interplanetary resort vacations, and I know we will feel blessed and joyful every step of the way. God is good! All the time!
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21