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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Palmer


Updated: Sep 2, 2020

The concept of tithing to a religious organization has always been tied to donations, but recently (and oddly, I might add), I have been using the concept more and more in my coaching. 

The first conversation was in late May.  Two months into safer@home, a week after the death of George Floyd, my clients were feeling overwhelmed with doing the hard work: listening, learning, committing to do better.  One woman, in particular, was juggling family, work, activism, race and political conversations, navigating friendships, and holding firm on mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing.  It was a lot.  And if you re-read that list, her self-care was not prioritized at all.  

Raised in the Church, I reminded her of what it meant to tithe – to give 10% to the Church. I actually didn’t know more about tithing than that:  10%, but I thought it was a good analogy for what we could reasonably giveaway during a time that was asking so much of each of us. Could you give away – literally and figuratively – 10% of your ‘supply’ to help another? 10% of your time.  10% of your income.  10% of your energy.  The analogy was meant to keep her in balance, to not give away so much that she would become the one in need.

Over the past few months, the concept has resonated. You can’t give so much to any one aspect of your life that you end up depleted.  While your personal formula may be 10, 20, 25%, the basic idea holds: if you give too much to your children, your marriage, your friends, community or job, your personal self-care may suffer.  If you consistently give all you can, the outcome will be burnout, exhaustion, and the tired we are all feeling so deeply right now  (see:  ‘I'm Tired’ Wisdom from August 6).  

So how do you say no when there is so much work to do:  so much pain to heal, so many in need, so many worthy causes.  

Foundations do it well.  Through their mission statements, foundations know exactly who they are, what they support – and by deduction, what they do not.  It isn’t that they don’t see value in all the many worthy causes vying for their backing, but they have to stay focused on what is in scope.  

So, what do you support?  My personal efforts are invested in causes for kids, single mothers, cancer research, women’s health, leadership development, and racial and gender equality.  Time, mentorship, donations of goods and services, if you are supporting a cause that aligns with my ‘mission’, you will most likely garner my attention.  By identifying what I DO support, it is easier (although never easy) to articulate that I’m not able to invest in causes outside of my focus areas.  It is easier to say that I wish them well, but I don’t have the ability to support them at this time (see:  ‘For Now’ Wisdom from August 20).

That is how tithing came up again today.  Speaking with an incredible new mother this morning, our conversation covered the equilibrium she is trying to maintain as a working mother of two, having just returned from parental leave.  She is a wife, mother, friend, and activist.  We covered the intersection of the causes she supported, when and how she wanted to ‘show up’ physically, emotionally, financially, and how that has had to change with the responsibilities and time commitment of prioritizing her children’s care and well-being.  As I introduced the concept of tithe and allotting 10% of her time to advocacy, it again resonated as a framework to do all she could, with the time limitations she now had, and not lose herself in the many priorities competing for her time.  All without (or mitigating) any feelings of guilt.  Our conversation was the catalyst for this message.

How do you want to invest your 10%?  How does focusing your resources allow you to direct your time, energy, and financial allocations in a reasonable way?  Does the concept make your personal investments more manageable during a time where we all feel overwhelmed?  And how do you prioritize personal care while still doing all you can and enough, without becoming the one in need.     

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