Quite a few years ago, a couple of us were talking with our pastor about how our church was going to fund the coming year.
It was a small church, membership was stagnant, dollars were hard to come by, and the two of us had been tapped to devise a plan to squeeze more blood from the same turnips, so to speak.
As these things tend to go at a church, the discussion turned to the “tithe” and whether talking about donating a specific percentage of members’ income was realistic, given our daily living expenses and the responsibilities we have to ourselves and to our families, much less to something or someone else.
The “how much” part was pretty clear, since 10 percent is the generally referred-to magic number. But the “how much is enough” question was harder to answer.
And then the other guy threw the pastor a curve.
“Do I calculate my tithe before or after taxes?” he asked the pastor. “And which taxes count?”
He had a point: There are property taxes and sales taxes and gasoline taxes and all kinds of other taxes, and surely we should get a “discount” for some of these taxes as part of the tithe equation.
And as it turns out, “how much is enough” is a question that never goes away, particularly this time of year.
Every January, most of us at least toss a glance in the direction of doing something different with our lives. Maybe it’s eating less or eating better. Maybe it’s exercising. Maybe it’s putting in more effort at work or trying to be a better parent or spouse.
We’re expected to break new ground in a new year, so it seems, and we generally give it a game effort for a week or two or three.
And then those eternal questions arise again: How much is enough? How much do I really need to do differently, and what difference will it really make?
Why can’t I just eat what I want? Do I really need that much exercise? Does my boss deserve my best effort? Can I be a better parent or spouse?
If only there was a concrete answer to those questions, so you and I and everyone else could just get on with the business of doing what we need to do to live our lives correctly.
As it turns out, thinking back to how the pastor answered the guy’s tax-and-tithe question that day, there is at least one take-it-to-the-bank answer.
“Well,” the pastor told us, clearing his throat and leaning forward ever so slightly.
“When you’re trying to figure out how much is enough,” he said, “look in a mirror, smile widely, and ask yourself what you need to do to keep looking that way all year long.”