The age-old practice of tithing is still relevant today

In ancient times, tithing was a common practice in Jewish and Christian communities. People would be required to give a tithe, equal to one-tenth of their income or in some cases agricultural produce, to the church. While not as common today, some people still practice tithing voluntarily by giving to religious organizations or for charitable purposes.

The appeal of tithing is its simplicity. It provides clear structure to one’s giving, leaving no wiggle room for digression. A tenth is a tenth, plain and simple.

But does the age-old practice of tithing still have value today? I wanted to find out for myself. So with the fresh start of the New Year, I decided to try my hand at tithing for all of January.

Intent on finding a modern, secular version of the practice, I consulted the book The Power of Giving by Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon. The authors describe three types of tithing that can be used by almost anyone (thankfully, none of them involve harvesting crops):

  • Money tithing: give away one-tenth of your income.
  • Time tithing: give one-tenth of your free time to others or to causes.
  • Idea tithing: share 10 percent of your good ideas with others.

Doggedly, I vowed to complete all three forms of tithing as part of my experiment. I would give 10 percent of my income, free time and ideas to others for the month of January.

Money tithing

First up, giving away one-tenth of my income. I opted to base my calculations on after-tax rather than gross income, which resulted in a more achievable albeit conservative tithe. I won’t disclose exactly how much money I gave away; let’s just say it was not a game-changing amount, nor was it pocket change.

Of the three types of tithing I test-drove, this one was the easiest to complete. In less than five minutes, and in only a few mouse clicks, I made a one-time online donation to a local charity called The Lipstick Project.

Based in Vancouver, TLP is a volunteer-run organization that provides free, professional spa services to patients who are in recovery or approaching the end of their lives. On a personal note, I witnessed first-hand the calming and comforting effect that gentle physical touch had on my own father in the last stages of his life. So I can attest to the benefits of TLP’s work. Their services make an enormous difference in people’s lives, and they do it all on a very lean budget.

My donation to TLP was fairly painless. Sure, I would have to pinch some pennies to mind my budget, but it wouldn’t require too much sacrifice. I’d just have to skip out on a few restaurant meals or some other discretionary purchases during the month. Hardly the realm of Mother Teresa.

The minor sting from parting ways with my money was soon displaced by a deep sense of fulfilment from making a positive contribution to a great cause. According to The Lipstick Project’s 2013 Annual Report, my modest donation represented almost 5% of their annual operating expenses for all programs, administration, and marketing. Knowing that my gift will make a meaningful impact to the charity’s work is the ultimate payoff of goodwill.

Tip: If you live in Canada and want to donate money to a good cause, check out Money Sense Magazine’s rating guide of Canada’s biggest 100 charities. This guide uses data from the Canadian Revenue Agency to assign grades to the country’s largest charities based on their efficiency, transparency and other key factors. While the guide excludes smaller local charities, it does provide an insightful look under the hood of the larger charities in Canada.

Time tithing

Before I could start tithing my time, I first had to calculate how much free time I had available in the month. Thankfully, The Power of Giving provides easy-to-follow instructions for doing the math.

According to the book, you start with the total number of hours available in the month, and then subtract the time needed for sleep and other essentials, such as work, commuting, preparing and eating food, performing toiletries, cleaning clothes and doing other household chores. The tithe is 10 percent of the ensuing number.

Based on my calculations, I had about 320 hours of free time in the month, resulting in a tithe of 32 hours. I split my time more or less evenly between formal volunteering (with a charity) and informal volunteering (outside of any organization).

My formal volunteering was done with a local organization called Community First Foundation. I helped out with their Backpack Buddies program to deliver healthy, nutritious meals to Vancouver’s inner-city school children. Now in its third year, the program supplies over 400 kids with enough food to last the weekend throughout the entire school year.

Students at Collingwood School in West Vancouver loading the Backpack Buddies' sparkling new van with food en route to Vancouver's inner-city schools (Photo by Joe Kelly)
Students at Collingwood School in West Vancouver loading the Backpack Buddies’ sparkling new van with food en route to Vancouver’s inner-city schools (Photo by Joe Kelly)


Informal volunteering generally includes any unpaid help given to people who are not relatives. For example, one evening I helped a friend to de-clutter her home; another day I offered free babysitting for a friend’s birthday; and on a few occasions I assisted colleagues with their job searches.

Needing to give away a few remaining hours at the end of the month, I decided to undertake a fun experiment on social media. I posted on Facebook that I was looking to donate some time to anyone needing help with anything, anything at all. After weeding out the obligatory jokes, I was pleased that my offer was taken up by two people. Somewhat surprisingly, they were both loose acquaintances – people I hadn’t seen in person for a decade or more. It proved to be a lot of fun reconnecting and helping them out in a small way. It also goes to show that social media isn’t all bad; these experiences wouldn’t have been possible without Facebook.

For many people, giving time is a challenge. We live busy lives, and volunteering your time means you have fewer opportunities to do other things you enjoy. However, I believe it’s better to think of volunteering as an investment rather than an opportunity cost.

Investing your time in a cause or in others helps to build up the social capital of your community. Not only does your investment help to make the community a better place for all, but it can lead to a healthier, happier and more fulfilled life for you too. And in my books, that’s time well spent.

Idea tithing

I was looking forward to trying out “idea tithing.” It was the first time I heard of the concept, and it sounded like a fun and creative way to practice giving.

My plan: I would carry a pocket-sized journal wherever I went and, whenever an idea struck, I’d take a moment to write it down. Thinking of myself as a big ideas guy, I envisioned a long list of thought-provoking ideas flooding the pages of my leather-bound notebook. For every ten new ideas I dreamed up, I’d dole out one of the better ones to someone who might benefit from it.

Wake up Walter Mitty. My harsh realization from the month: I’m not a big ideas guy. In fact, at the pace I was going, I’d be lucky to give away one idea by month’s end. I needed to change tactics, and quickly.

So early in the month, I amped up the challenge. Instead of a mere 10 percent, I’d now give away every single one of my ideas. No messy calculations. No need to select which ideas I would pass along and which I would keep for myself. They would all be set free.

I’d like to say all my ideas were mind-blowing brainwaves – perhaps a new way of solving a problem or an innovative break-through that would improve someone’s life. Again, delusional thinking.

Most, in reality, were run-of-the-mill suggestions to help friends and colleagues in small practical ways. Over the course of the entire month, I thought up one or two ideas, tops, that I would classify as good. The best of the lot, in my view, was a new idea for an article, which I passed over to an editor at The Vancouver Sun.

So what did I learn?

The bad news first: You don’t dream up nearly as many new ideas as you think you do. And most of those you do come up with aren’t especially profound. We can’t all be Sir Ken Robinson. Bummer.

But, here’s the good news: It’s easy and it feels great to give away an idea. It’s free to do, and even the smallest germ of an idea can grow in the right hands.

That’s the true value of giving – whether it’s your time, money, or even an idea. Your gift represents possibility. Just as a single seed can bloom into a flower, so can a simple generous act blossom into something special in the right circumstances. But that’s only possible if you freely share your contributions with the world, no matter how humble they might be.

Christmas at the lakefront: A fond farewell

When I set off to Bali earlier this year, I had planned to spend Christmas Day on the beach drinking pina coladas. It was one for my bucket list – and a beautiful white sand beach on the Indonesian island seemed like a perfect setting to soak up some sun over the holidays while sipping on a sweet, tropical cocktail.

Life is not always kind. Sometimes it is just downright cruel. Never in a million years would I have anticipated being back home in wintry Canada on Christmas Day, grieving over the sudden loss of my dear father. After a short illness, he entered into eternal rest on December 23rd at the age of 70.

It happened all too quickly, especially the final few days. So fast, it was difficult to process everything. I wasn’t ready or prepared to say goodbye, but not sure more time would have fixed that. I have comfort in knowing he was so happy to be surrounded with love from family, and many good friends, right to the end. We even got to open some Christmas gifts with him on the 22nd, in what would turn out to be his last full day before he passed. This gave him, and us, a moment of joy.

My father was a kind and loving man, always there to help others without asking anything in return. He taught me many things in life, not the least of which is what it means to be truly selfless. Dad touched the Earth with a gentle grace, and had the most extraordinary gift of integrity. His actions spoke volumes, and to this day I still have a lot to learn from his quiet example.

To pay tribute to his spirit of playfulness and love of the outdoors, on Christmas Day my family visited the beach at a lakeside park not far from my parent’s home in the Okanagan Valley. On a cold and clear afternoon, with pina coladas in hand, we honoured him with a short Irish blessing and a reading of the poem, He Is Gone, by David Harkins.

I know in years to come, I’ll remember this as one of the most meaningful experiences from my bucket list, and a fitting way to pay tribute and bid a fond farewell to my beloved father.

I’ll keep on smiling, dad, for you will always be in my heart.

Dad relaxing lakeside in the Okanagan Valley, 2009 (Photo by Marty Kelly)
Dad relaxing lakeside in the Okanagan Valley, 2009 (Photo by Marty Kelly)


He Is Gone

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Written 1981
David Harkins 1959 –
Silloth, Cumbria, UK

How to set life goals that are meaningful and effective

As the end of the year approaches, it’s natural to start contemplating the year ahead. Like many people do at this time of year, I usually take a few moments to set some goals for the twelve months to come.

In the past, I didn’t bother with much formality in carrying out this task. I simply wrote down a handful of things I wanted to do or accomplish, both professionally and personally. This year, however, I decided to put a lot more effort and thought into my annual goal-setting practice. My aim was to create more meaningful and effective goals that would help me to achieve the life I want. Here’s how I did it.

Align goals with your values and life purpose

I previously wrote a post on the merits of living a life that’s grounded on a larger purpose. I made the case that living in harmony with your values and purpose is one of the surest routes to happiness and fulfillment in life.

That’s all very well in theory, but how do you go about this in practice? Once you’ve clarified your values and overall life purpose, living them everyday can be tricky business. Here’s where goals can help. Setting and working towards concrete and actionable goals can help to translate your values and purpose into real life.

Aligning your goals with your values and a greater purpose means that you’ll take action on things that are important and worthwhile to you. Your goals will be inherently meaningful, and achieving them will bring a deep sense of fulfilment.

However, creating value-based goals doesn’t mean they all have to be profound and lofty pursuits. Sure, some of your values may be highly principled, but others can be quite carefree. For example, two of my values are “adventure” and “fun.” This leaves a lot of room for lighthearted goals too.

Seek balance amongst all areas in life

It’s fair to say that most of us have set goals before, at least in some areas of life. Perhaps you have created goals for your career, finances, or even your health. But have you ever created a romantic goal, or what about a goal focused on your spiritual practice?

Goal setting is a powerful tool. It helps you to focus your energy and efforts on achieving the things you want out of life. This is all well and good, but creating goals that focus only on certain aspects of life may mean that other areas are neglected. My advice: create a breadth of goals that encompass all the important areas of your life. Balance your professional, financial, and health related aspirations with goals that focus on family, friendships, romance, spirituality, and more.

As for me, here are the categories I decided to use for my goals this year:

  • Professional
  • Writing
  • Leadership, Service and Contribution
  • Family and Friends
  • Romance
  • Fun
  • Health
  • Learning
  • Spirituality
  • Travel and Adventure
  • Financial

While there’s no magic number, I recommend creating at least 2-3 goals per category. Try not to overload any one category; instead, strive for a healthy balance amongst all the different areas. As well, don’t overdo it by creating a huge number of goals overall. You don’t want to force so much structure onto your life that you rob yourself of the joy that comes from spontaneity and happenstance.

Create goals that are effective

Some goals are better than others. In fact, how a goal is expressed can sometimes be the difference between accomplishing your objectives and falling short.

One of the best ways to ensure your goals are effective is to use the aptly named S.M.A.R.T. criteria for goal-setting. First presented in a paper in the November 1981 issue of Management Review, the criteria have been modified and adopted in a wide range of contexts. The five criteria are often defined as follows:

  • Specific – Make sure the goal is clear and concrete, rather than ambiguous and general. It should be something you can easily take action on and doesn’t leave any wiggle room (“take the stairs at work” is better than “lose weight”). Check out this post for more on the power of using concrete goals.
  • Measurable – Make the goal quantifiable. In other words, you should be able to measure progress towards it, and know when it has been completed (“read at least 20 books” is measurable; “read more books” is not).
  • Attainable – The goal is realistic and achievable (“go to the opera” appears on my list; “sing opera” does not). Tip: It’s okay to include some easy goals, but make sure to stretch yourself too. If a goal is ambitious, however, don’t make it so extreme that it’s impossible to achieve.
  • Relevant – The goal should matter to you; it should be meaningful and worthwhile. Notice that by aligning your goals with your values and life purpose, they will be relevant by design.
  • Time-bound – Ground the goal within a clear timeframe. I gave myself a year to complete most of my goals, though many can be finished in shorter order.

Using these criteria, here are a few examples of goals I created for the year ahead:

  • Publish at least five articles in major news outlets [Writing]
  • Start a charitable foundation [Leadership, Service and Contribution]
  • Take an acting class [Fun]
  • Spend at least an hour in nature every week [Health]
  • Read at least 20 books [Learning]

When creating your own goals, remember that wording matters. Strive to craft goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a sure-fire recipe for developing goals that work.

In review

With the fresh start of a new year comes optimism for the future, making it a perfect time to set some new goals for the twelve months ahead. Here’s my advice for creating goals that are meaningful, balanced, and effective:

  1. Identify your personal values and overall life purpose. Aligning your goals with your values and purpose will make them more meaningful and inspiring to you, and make achieving them more fulfilling. Need some guidance? Check out this past post on living with purpose.
  2. List all the areas in your life for which you want to develop goals. Convert this list to 8-12 general categories. Strive for balance: make sure all key areas of your life are captured, without over-representing any one realm.
  3. For each category, create at least 2-3 goals. Use the S.M.A.R.T. criteria to ensure your goals are effectively stated. Remember, your goals should be worthwhile pursuits. You should feel compelled to complete them, even if they are ambitious.
  4. Start mapping out a plan for achieving your goals, especially the more involved ones. A big goal can appear less daunting once you break it down into smaller, actionable steps.