Giving Too Much
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap. It was originally published on May 20, 2014.
Ever since my family became devout, they became regular tithers and givers. Before I go further, I should point out there is nothing wrong with giving as long as that giving isn’t negatively affecting your life (or that of your kids/family).
Which, I realized somewhat recently, is the case with my own family.
They started out giving 10% (the actual biblical definition of a tithe) all the time. Then, they realized that wasn’t enough, and “god told them” to give more and more and more until the last time I remember was them “tithing” 50-60% of their income and waffling with giving more, because their faith, at one point, wasn’t strong enough to give 70% because they had hungry mouths to feed.
When I was 10, my family chose to allow our house to be foreclosed on because “god told them” to pay another families’ mortgage, and when my parents couldn’t financially afford to pay both, they decided (knowing full-well the consequences) to stop paying their mortgage instead, trusting that “god would provide” a way to keep our house, or a new place for us to live.
“god’s provision” happened at the hand of my grandparents who noticed the building next door was for rent and the landlords weren’t picky about having a family who’s house had just been foreclosed on (every other place my parents looked turned them down), renting from him. This happened the day we had to be out of our foreclosed-on house and we were looking at being homeless.
My parents refused to pay their mortgage and take care of their family because “god told them” to do that for someone else.
Not to mention, at this time, we had another family living with us because my parents believed god brought them into our lives so this woman could get her children back from CPS.
Because my large family + this additional family who my parents payed to live with us, so she could homeschool her kids but still say she “had a job” were moving in to this house, my brother’s room was a closet, literally, he lived in a closet. My sister’s all roomed in a portion of the master suite my dad partitioned off from their room, and I shared a room with the other families’ eldest daughter, and the rest of her family had the separated off room/bathroom combination. At one point their cousin came to live with us too, and he slept on the floor outside my room, in the dining room.
My parents didn’t really mind the fact that this mother was taking as much advantage of me as my mother until I had a breakdown one day and they decided everyone should do chores and cooking, not just me. Eventually, my family had to ask the family they invited to live with us for free to leave, because the mother had started abusing pharmaceuticals again after regaining custody (which was part of the reason she lost custody of her kids initially).
At some point between these two events my parents did stop paying the other families’ mortgage, I think because they found out and asked them to stop (how they didn’t know, I don’t know, I was a kid, this was all foreign to me).
This whole time my parents have been tithing more and more – by the time we moved to GA to live in the house my grandparents bought for their retirement, my parents were tithing close to 50% of their income. After my dad found a job that payed significantly less than the one he had previously, they tithed 50-60% of their income, fully believing that “god would provide” and by refusing to acknowledge that my grandparents are the reason we had a house, food, and shoes that fit, “god” did provide.
There were multiple times, aside from being forced out of our house, that I was worried if we’d even be able to eat, and I remember my mom talking to my grandma, and at one point, there was a series of weeks where my grandparents paid for an Angel Food subscription for us because we couldn’t afford groceries.
At birthdays, and even in-between them my grandparents would buy us new shoes and clothes (which was always really nice because most of what we wore was hand-me-downs from pitying church folk, or old clothes of mine passed down to my sisters) because, really, we couldn’t afford a lot of that either – at least not at the rate that 8 kids grow. I think it was a relief to them when I stopped growing at 15, and had only grown an inch or two between then and age 12 (stunted at the I-can-still-technically-shop-in-the-kids-section size – I’ve since grown curves, so, yay?).
But you know what we could afford? buying and donating a shit ton of everything to the Crisis Pregnancy Center, throwing extravagant donation-only christmas parties, putting together lavish packages for the Shoebox/Samaritan’s Purse group, making a ton of cookies and buying presents for everyone in church (and only keeping the cookies that didn’t come out right for ourselves after slaving in the kitchen for a week), putting together care packages for nursing homes, buying presents and making gift baskets for the entire neighborhood, and since I’ve left: creating the most elaborate easter baskets for all of the church kids (but my siblings only get the $1 chocolate and whatever is cheap and on sale or left over).
My family gets the short end of the stick because they have to support 6 kids-at-home on 40-50% of whatever my dad makes. Everything else goes to churches, people (projects), and random “ministries”, in the name of “god”.
I remember having long devotions about tithing and how you have to tithe to be a good christian (also, the more you give the better christian you are), and how if you don’t tithe, your life will be horrible and “god won’t bless it”.
I’d heard so often that if things aren’t done X way, then your life will be bad. Given my already hellish childhood, when I was a teenager I was actually scared of what would happen when I left home.
I was afraid that I would have to live my childhood all over again, on my own, but worse, because god would be after me, specifically.
Part of the reason I didn’t want to get married for so long was because I couldn’t imagine having to go back and make all the decisions my parents made and live through that all over again.
When Alex and I were getting serious I tried to get him to promise me that we would always tithe. Because if we didn’t, I knew that there would be horrible consequences – because my family was “so blessed” and doing everything right, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t.
I couldn’t imagine how dire the consequences of not tithing would be, after living my entire life in a house that was so other-centric it neglected their own children’s needs. I thought it would be a nightmare. I was just so so afraid of what would happen if I left home, if I didn’t tithe, if I didn’t live exactly the way my parents did, because I knew what that was like and I hoped that eventually it would get better – that they would get their 100 fold, and everything wouldn’t be so scary.
I was terrified at the thought of having to walk that path again, myself, starting from square one.
As an adult now, and learning how the world works…I was lied to so much, and so much fear was ingrained that was completely baseless. Never once have I had any cause to be legitimately worried about food (not to say that I haven’t, because an empty fridge is a huge trigger even if it just because we ate out all week instead of shopping), never once has my life been anywhere near as hellish and scary as it was in my childhood.
“god” has not come after me like the mafia for “his money”, and I have a lot more satisfaction giving what I can to who I want, than giving more than is financially wise to whatever church I’m in that day.
My family could have, at any time, started paying their mortgage, or maybe cut-back on tithe for a month so we could eat. Instead, my family decided to bring financial crises upon themselves because they thought “god told them” and it made them better christians.
And that’s really all that it’s about, isn’t it?
Your parents sound like textbook examples of why religious fundamentalism could reasonably be categorized as a mental illness. Not much else to say except that whenever anyone defends their ideas/actions with “…because God told me!”, it always, always, always ends badly for all involved. Glad you’re in a healthier place now.
This sounds so much like my family… except we rented because god was against debt.
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Personality, it was better when they were against Dancing, Movies, drinking and so forth than having as many kids as possible. I don’t know if its a mental illness people just get crazy ideas to plan their lives around an idea.