Several years ago I was having a difficult time financially. Business was slow, I had some big medical bills and I'd not been as careful with my money as I needed to be. It was November, and I didn't know how I was going to make it through the end of the year, so I called my friend Anna to ask her advice. She had a good head for money.
I tearfully explained my predicament. She listened quietly. She was kind and sympathetic, completely understanding. She did not judge or scold. "You want my advice?" she asked, when I had finished telling her my sad story.
"Well, sure," I replied, "that's why I called you."
"Tithe," she said simply.
I couldn't believe my ears. "You don't understand," I objected. "I just told you: I don't have any money coming in, I've got all these bills piled up, and I don't know how I'm going to meet the mortgage next month. I can't tithe -- I have nothing to tithe with!"
"Well, you asked my advice, and I'm giving it to you," she said matter-of-factly. "All I have to share with you is my own experience. If you start to tithe, you shift your relationship with God. It is an act of faith in which you essentially say, 'I know I will be taken care of, so I can give this money back to God.' It works for me and it works for lots of other people I know, too."
I knew in my heart of hearts that Anna was right. Tithing was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I was afraid -- afraid I would not have enough money to meet my needs, afraid to give away 10 percent of my income, afraid of financial insecurity. I had heard other people talk about tithing in the past, and being a spiritual person, I liked the idea -- but my fear always got the better of me.
"Here's what I'd suggest," Anna continued, "Why don't you call Naomi and ask her what her experience has been with tithing. Call Steve too, and see what he has to say. Then decide if it's right for you."
I thanked Anna for her advice, and immediately dialed Naomi's number. She was more than happy to tell me about her experience with tithing. She had been in similar financial straits a few years earlier, and Anna had given her the same advice she'd given me. Reluctantly, Naomi agreed to do it. She started by tithing to a 12-step community of which she was a member, because Anna had instructed her to "give to the spiritual community that nurtures you." Naomi took a check to the office of this 12-step program every time she got paid (she was self-employed in the real estate business). "The first time I tithed," Naomi told me, "I sold a $400,000 house the very next week! I made a great commission. I'm sure it was a direct result of my tithing."
After a while, Anna suggested that Naomi start tithing to her local synagogue, since she had been born and raised Jewish. "I'm not going to do that," Naomi protested. "I lost my faith years ago, and I'm not going to give them any money." Anna nudged Naomi, "Just try it. Do it a few times. See what happens." So the next time Naomi received got paid, she drove to the synagogue and gave them a check. Before long, the rabbi invited her to come to a special event at the synagogue. She went. She met a few people she liked, and she started going to more events. Her heart began softening toward the Jewish faith she had rejected, and over time she gradually felt more and more a part of this community. Finally, Naomi became an official member of the temple.
About this time, her young nephew turned 13 and it was time for him to have his bar mitzvah. She knew that her sister didn't have much money, so Naomi offered to pay for the bar mitzvah. Naomi had been estranged from her sister, but she loved her nephew very much, and she wanted to do this for him. Over the months of planning the ceremony and the party, Naomi and her sister gradually worked through their differences and were reconciled. The bar mitzvah was a wonderful day for the whole family.
In short, Naomi's commitment to tithe 10 percent of whatever she earned transformed her life. Tithing did more than put her on sound financial ground; it brought her back to her Jewish faith, it strengthened the bond between her and her nephew and it reunited her with her sister. She was living a life of miracles.
If I had any doubt about the efficacy of tithing, it disappeared in listening to Naomi's story. Tithing means acknowledging that no matter how little one has, there are always other people who are worse off. Tithing means saying to God, "I trust that You will provide for me, and I am willing to give back 10 percent to do Your work in the world." Tithing lifts the burden of fear from my heart and replaces it with trust. Tithing to a spiritual organization that gives me spiritual sustenance is the best way of saying thanks for all that I have received.
I once heard Jack Canfield (co-author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series) talk about tithing and its role in his life. He said, "Both my co-author and I have been tithing for many years and we think it's an important part of our business success. But I have to tell you, it was a lot easier to write those checks when they were smaller. It's kind of hard these days to write tithing checks for $100,000, or more!" I laughed when he said that. Now, there's a problem I'd love to have!
I've been tithing for several years now, ever since the phone conversations I had with Anna and Naomi. I don't sell real estate, and I haven't had the success of "Chicken Soup" authors, but my finances have stabilized somewhat and the peace of mind I feel is priceless.
Tithing shifted my relationship to God from one of a fearful child pleading for God's protection to one of a willing partner with God in doing His work in the world. Most important, tithing gives me freedom from want and freedom from fear.
BJ Gallagher's new book is "If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats" (Hampton Roads).