I chose to be a tither because I remembered that it worked for my parents, who struggled to make ends meet but first gave to God, who in fact did meet their needs on time, every time.
As the last of six sons in my childhood home (though my second eldest brother died years before I was born), I wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes while growing up. This made perfect sense, since my parents had only had boys. We also had just one parent working, my dad, until I became old enough to go to school. Money was tight, no doubt. Then my mother got a part-time job, and when I went to school for a full day, she got a full-time job.
Throughout my childhood, we always had food on the table and clothes to wear. We were taught to polish our shoes on Saturday so they would be shiny for church the next day. Somehow we all fit into our tiny 1,450 square foot four-bedroom home. I say all this because unbeknownst to us kids, my parents were committed tithers to our church. While our parents tried to give us what we wanted at Christmas, and tried to pay for a few of the things other families provide for their children without a second thought, we occasionally got the message that Dad and Mom tithed to church first, and “the Lord would provide” for what we needed after that. Giving to God and making daily devotions were part of my parents’ practice of Christian living. They tried to teach us to tithe our weekly allowance, but at some point that stream of money dried up — probably when we became old enough to get part-time jobs ourselves.
When my parents retired, they were debt-free and depended on Social Security as their income, though my father did receive a small pension from the parent conglomerate that bought out the company where he had worked for 32 years.
Right before my father died in 1984, I had begun studies to become a certified financial planner, living and working in South Bend, Indiana. As often is the case, my mother needed help sorting out their finances following my father’s death. In doing that work I discovered something even more amazing — the incredible generosity of my parents.
Four of us sons went to a Christian elementary school, which cost tuition. I’m not sure what that tuition was, but rather than save for retirement, my parents invested in their sons’ education. How they afforded to do this, I don’t know, but they did. And in the paperwork, I discovered that my parents still sent that school a gift annually, or “as the Lord provides,” as my father said in a letter to the school.
I also discovered that in retirement, when they bought their car, they made double payments to retire the debt faster, all while double-tithing to their church — giving 20% of their gross income. They lived in the same house for more than thirty years, which had been paid off long ago. They didn’t have significant retirement savings, but Mom received a small survivor’s pension benefit and had an amazing health insurance plan as part of Dad’s retirement package, thank God. They had spent their money on the things that mattered to them, in generosity, and they had tremendous faith that all would be well.
It should be no surprise then that after I entered the Episcopal Church, a church that invited me in and loved me just as I was, when I completed my first pledge card, I chose to be a tither. I made the decision because I remembered that it worked for my parents, who struggled to make ends meet but first gave to God, who in fact did meet their needs on time, every time. While I didn’t put an amount to be pledged on that first card, I did commit to tithing 10% of my income. In one respect, that card wasn’t helpful; on the other hand, it was a powerful testimony that some people see their giving to God as a spiritual practice, and worth the discipline it takes to keep that promise.
Almost forty years later, with a minor interruption while in seminary, I am still a tither, and thanks be to God, I was fortunate enough to marry a woman who sees the value in that commitment to God. Today, we give more than 10% when factoring in the other agencies and organizations that we support financially. We save money in our Roth IRAs, we live well below our means, and we pay off our credit card in full every month, thereby we are not beholden to debt.
Most importantly, the congregation I serve knows that Beth and I tithe — they’ve heard it from the pulpit many times. I say it not to boast, but rather to inspire; tithing is a decision and a commitment. Anyone can tithe on any amount of income, because you give to God first, and make all other decisions after that. Plus, I will not ask the members of our church to do something I am unwilling to do myself.
And so, my parents’ role modeling, their spiritual practice of generous giving, has turned out to be the best hand-me-down that I ever received from them. For that, I am eternally grateful.
By Rev. Timothy Dombek | October 2022