My parents taught me to give 10% back to God. Here’s how it worked.

Giving was a major topic of conversation when I was growing up. We started small: quarters in the collection plate on Sunday, a sweaty wadded up dollar bill in the special birthday box at the front of the church. Sometimes, if I sat real still or managed not to pinch my brother or followed along in the prayer book and hymnal, Momma would let me put the check in the plate when it was passed. But we didn’t talk much about what we were doing. We just did it.

And then one day, I started booking actual paying babysitting jobs. My parents sat me down and explained that I was using gifts God had given me to make money to buy stuff I wanted. Since I was using God’s gifts, the only right thing to do was to offer some of my pay back to God. And God wanted 10%. My parents told me that I would be responsible for setting God’s portion aside, and that I could decide what to do with it. They used their tithe to make a pledge to our parish. But I could pick my own thing, if I wanted.

So I babysat. I taught swim lessons. I was the Story Hour reader at the library. I put aside my tithe in a little piano-shaped jewelry box that played ‘Memory’ when the lid was lifted.

When the box filled up, I would take it to the grocery and buy cans of food and rice and peanut butter and beans. And then, I would take the bag to church and donate to our local food pantry. It wasn’t much. But the more I did it, the less I thought about what else I could be buying for myself, and more about what my little 10% could do in terms of food for hungry people in my little town. I was quiet about it. Making this offering became a very holy, personal thing to me.

Tithing and pledging in college and as an adult has been much harder than when I was just dealing with babysitting money and cans of non-perishables for the food pantry. Many times, I’ve leaned heavily on my time and talents when my treasure has been short. But God has never left me wanting, even when times have been incredibly, chokingly tight. My needs have always been met–and more–there has always been enough to share, to offer back, to celebrate.

The quiet and intentional teaching my parents offered me with their own example, reminding me that ALL I had belonged to God and was merely on loan to me, stuck with me. Learning to offer God my very best and very most and being joyful and deeply nourished by the giving is a life-long lesson for all of us.

Living out that lesson starts small. The Holy Spirit fans the flame of love, sometimes with a breath as soft as a little music box lid lifting and closing back again.

Thank you Grow for permission to reprint this article.