“The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
Spiritual leaders are generous. They recognize that God wants us to give from our hearts to our families, to our parishes, to our communities, and to our world in need, seeing Jesus in the faces of those to which we give generously. As the Scripture verse above acknowledges, “God loves a cheerful giver.” A cheerful giver is a son or daughter after God’s own heart, since our Heavenly Father is the ultimate giver of gifts, the most supreme gift being that of His only Son. Giving is one of God’s favorite activities, and He desires that all of His children share in the joy of this practice, too.
I’ve always found it interesting that many Catholics are much better at tipping their waiters than they are at giving back to God by helping their parish and other ministries in need. We all have heard or read the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), and everyone almost universally respects how the woman gave so much of the very little she had. Yet year after year, I hear priests rightly lament over the fact that the same small percentage of people are the ones providing for the large majority of the local and universal church’s needs, through their gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Lack of generosity was not only a problem in Jesus’ day. It is still plaguing the laity today.
Fortunately, though, there are also many examples of the ‘widow’s mite’ today. Not surprisingly, many pastors and families confirm that those who do give back generously to God through tithing always seem to be the ones most active in spiritual leadership—at church and at home, and often in their communities, too. In servant-leadership fashion, generous men and women recognize that nothing they have—even their leadership—is really “theirs” to begin with. All of their time, talent, and treasure belong to and come from God. So they give back to him what is already His, as a sign of gratitude, of submission to and trust in God’s will, and as a way to physically prioritize love, selflessness, and service over consumerism, selfishness, and stuff in their life. St. Paul said, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). In the end, the cheerful givers end up being much more cheerful people overall.
That said, giving sometimes hurts. When Ray and I got married, I inherited his mountain of student loans, and we jointly decided to tackle them with full force, paying off tens of thousands of dollars in our first two years of marriage, despite both of our very modest incomes. To understate it, during those long twenty-four months our budget was tight, and some weeks I loathed the thought of opening the empty fridge to creatively concoct another meal from what little food was left at the end of our budget cycle. My sneakers had gaping holes in them, Ray was wearing undershirts that were a size too small from years worth of shrinkage, our kitchen table and bedroom furniture were literally falling apart, and even mildly superfluous purchases had come to a painstaking halt. Those automatic e-giving withdrawals from the Church every month sometimes seemed like a big hit to our already tight finances, but it was a hit we needed to take, to remind us that we were the leaders and money was the servant—and not the other way around. It didn’t take us long to learn, however, that you can’t out-give God. It was amazing to see how he heaped blessings on us as we sought to put him first.
Perhaps the tithing conversation always turns to money first because our culture idolizes material wealth, making financial giving a more uncomfortable practice for many than giving of one’s time or talent. Even Jesus talked a lot about money in the gospels, knowing how susceptible we are to becoming attached to it. But giving generously of talent and time are marks of strong leaders, too. With so many things clamoring for our time and attention in the media-saturated, restless world we live in, sacrificing time to serve others is countercultural and it makes a powerful statement to those you serve, that they are worth your time. Conversely, when we aren’t giving generously of our time, what are we telling others?
When I was in high school, I was a go-getter to my detriment, inundating my schedule with academic and extracurricular activities. One day, in an overwhelmed plea for God’s help in Eucharistic Adoration, he spoke very clearly to my heart, reminding me where my priorities must first reside: “You make time for me; I’ll make time for the rest.” When I let too many things—even too many good things—bombard my time and I fail to give the first fruits of my time to God, I suffer. Over the years, in those moments of feeling over-scheduled, overworked, and under-prayed, I close my eyes, place myself back in that quiet adoration chapel, and listen to the Lord speak those words again in my heart: You make time for me; I’ll make time for the rest.
A five-year-old girl sat at her desk looking eagerly at her teacher, waiting in ardent anticipation of her next coloring project. The little girl’s eyes widened joyfully as her teacher approached, holding a colored marker in her hand. “This green marker is for you,” the teacher told the little girl. “Use it to draw me a tree.” As the teacher walked away, the little girl looked at her blank white paper with unbridled excitement. She pulled the cap off of the marker with her tiny fingers and then stopped abruptly. She looked over at the edge of her desk and something spectacular catches her eye: a purple marker.
The little girl put the green marker down, grabbed the new, captivating purple marker and began to draw a dainty flower on her blank page. “This looks beautiful!” the little girl thought to herself. “My teacher will be so happy with me.” Ten minutes later the teacher strolled back over to the little girl’s desk. She looked over the little girl’s shoulder to see a dazzling landscape on the colorfully transformed sheet of paper—replete with pink and orange butterflies, a star-studded blue sky, and a spectacular little purple flower. The little girl turned around in her chair in the direction of her teacher, looking up with hopeful expectation of her teacher’s praise. After what felt like an eternity of silence to the anxious little girl, the teacher finally spoke. “Where’s the green tree?”
God has some very specific talents he gave you as one of his spiritual leaders, and only you can use your gifts and talents perfectly. When God gives one of his children a special gift, he intends that his child puts it to good use. Creativity in applying these gifts is fine, but obedience is essential. Chances are, you can think of an item in your home that is sitting on a shelf, wasting away because you fail to use it. The last thing we want to do is to subject our God-given gifts and talents to this same fate. As strong spiritual leaders, we must take time to discover what gifts God has given us, and how he wants us to be using them, so that they do not get old, dusty, and helplessly ignored. We discover which talents God has given us and how he expects us to use them to serve our family and others through prayer, consulting others, and studying how to decipher God’s will for us.
Since many of us don’t take time to discern our talents and how to use them, we sometimes end up stockpiling ourselves with ministerial activities and, as a result, give everything a half-hearted effort. For others of us, maybe we just don’t intentionally participate in any tithing of our talent at all! We can’t let ourselves get distracted by those purple markers—not if it keeps us from drawing the green tree God is calling us to draw. God gives us all the tools we need to create His masterpieces. But he gives us all different colored markers. He gave you a green marker to draw him a tree, but what you don’t see is that he gave me a purple marker to draw him a flower, because only he knows how marvelous you are at drawing trees and how beautifully I can color purple flowers. When God hands us our markers, we often foolishly try to draw him a whole picture. That’s because we don’t realize that God is piecing together a mural on the back wall of the classroom—made of a collage of all of our paintings: your tree, my flower, another woman’s butterflies, another man’s sky. God wants your piece of the bigger picture. Maybe you and your spouse are gifted at hospitality or administration. My husband and I have talents in the areas of writing and teaching. He desires for you to strengthen yourself as his anointed spiritual leader, by sharing these talents with your own family and also with others in your parish and greater communities. His painting is incomplete without it. Where’s your green tree?
Giving Makes Us Grow
Tithing liberally of my treasure, time, and talent is an ongoing challenge for me, as a fallen but hopeful daughter of God. I know that giving serves others and that being generous powerfully transforms me. I know that giving makes me grow. But with growth comes growing pains. Giving can stretch us out of our comfort zones, but in that stretching, we inch ourselves closer to becoming spiritual leaders after God’s own heart. Give a little, and then a little more, until you feel some discomfort. Where there is pain, there is generally some eternal gain.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Katie Warner’s book, Head and Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family (Emmaus Road Publishing, August 2015), with permission of the author and Emmaus Road Publishing.