There are events and experiences in our lives that bring God into sharper focus and make us more aware of God's gifts and our responses. The defining event for both Marvin and me was the sudden infant death of our daughter, MaryEllen, in 1960. I was made aware of how much of life I had taken for granted.
For Marvin the clearer focus came some time later when he attended a stewardship meeting in our parish. The speaker for the evening was a Lutheran layman who talked about tithing as an act of gratitude, as a response to God.
Marvin came from that meeting to tell me that MaryEllen's death had made him aware of God's many blessings and gifts to us, particularly the two bright, healthy children we had been given. Therefore, he would begin tithing.
Marvin's pronouncement launched a debate of monumental proportions. Actually, it was a battle royal that lasted for at least ten years! Every fall when the every-member canvass began, I battled with renewed energy. "We cannot afford to tithe!" I said. "We are poor. Let the rich tithe!"
And I continued on and on: "That's easy for you to say. I'm the one who buys day-old bread in order to save. I'm the one who worries when the children need shoes and there's not enough money to pay for shoes or when the washer breaks down and we can't afford a new one."
Every year the battle raged. It usually ended when I threw up my hands and said something I knew wasn't fair: "Oh well, it's your money. I don't go to work to earn any money, so you get to decide how it's spent."
This was unfair because I knew Marvin did not think this way at all, but wanted all our decisions be made together.
The debate ended with our not tithing, but Marvin would add one more dollar to our weekly pledge. For years he would add one dollar a week to our pledge.
One day in the 1970's- I'm not sure about the exact time- in a moment I can only describe as God's Grace, I sat down at the kitchen table and said, "Marvin, if you were going to tithe, how would you do it?" He almost fell off his chair!
That day we worked out a compromise. We would give six or seven percent to our church and the other three or four percent would go to the charities of my choosing. From then on, every payday, the first thing we did with our money was to give it away.
No bills would be paid until we put the money in the church envelope and wrote checks to complete our tithe. Doing this first was important to both of us.
I learned slowly that it was not financial security I needed, but trust in God.
Our lives changed. The really strange experience was that we always had enough money to pay our bills and even had three children go to college without borrowing any money. We still have an abundance of money that amazes me, and we still give away our money first.
The Rev. Canon Doris Bray, Palmerton, PA
This essay is from the October 2000 edition of Diocesan Life, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem.