The Muslims call it Zakah. The Jews call it Tzedakah. And the word “charity” comes from the French root “caritas” which means “Christian love.” Around the world, people give of their money, of their possessions and of their time to help those who are less fortunate.
Causes abound, from the preservation of land and species, to myriad health-related foundations, to the rights and freedom of men and women around the world. Most religions require the act of selfless sharing as part of an individual’s ethical obligation to help people who are less fortunate. Beyond traditional religions—beyond religion completely—people give to preserve their culture, their children’s future and the world’s resources.
So how much is enough? Perhaps the simplest answer is to give as much as you can, to share your good fortune with others willingly and to offer to give up something that is simply “nice to have” to provide someone else with a “must have.”
I’ve suggested more than a few times to people who are in debt to hold off on their tithing until they are out of the hole. Why? They simply can’t afford it. If your first response is, “It’s part of who I am to tithe,” then you’re willing defer your own pleasures to give. If sacrifice is required, so be it.
To give with real spirit, as opposed to by rote or by rule, is to take what you HAVE and give a little to someone else. It is about prioritizing the needs of others over our own wants. It requires thinking about how you will spend your money so that you can also afford to give some of that money in support of your beliefs.
People with debt aren’t doing that. People with debt aren’t actually tithing their own money since their gift is coming from, or being supported by, lenders far and wide who are making lots ’n lots of money.
Here’s the thing: if you can’t afford to live within your means, you aren’t demonstrating responsible living and you don’t have to right to salve your conscience by tithing. Only solvent people have the right to tithe and if you don’t have your crap together yet, you shouldn’t be doing it. Tithing 10% and then putting $500 a month on your line of credit is hypocritical.
Not all of us can afford to give financial gifts. But we have other gifts to share: our skills, our time, our good will. For those of us who can afford to give a financial gift, we must consider carefully how we arrived at our gift amount. If the gift causes no pause to think, we probably haven’t shared enough of what we have. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”