It was the first week in December when my eight-year-old son, Joshua, made a decision he’ll remember the rest of his life. He had earned a couple of dollars—exactly enough to buy a GI Joe figure he’d been wanting for some time.
Josh knew he needed to pay tithing on his money, but he also knew that would make him about twenty cents short of the toy’s purchase price. I explained that if he waited one more week, he could earn enough money to buy the figure on our next weekly trip to town. But to a normal, impatient eight-year-old, next week seemed years away, and the temptation of getting his treasured toy “right now” was too much.
Finally I told my son that I wouldn’t force him to pay tithing, but I knew it was right to pay tithing first and wait another week for his toy. However, I explained that the choice was his and that Heavenly Father would also know what choice he had made. We bought the GI Joe figure that week.
Christmas came and went, and the incident was all but forgotten until the night we were going to tithing settlement. Both Joshua and Mark, who was five at the time, had paid tithing throughout the year, so on the way to church, I thought we should discuss what would happen. I explained what tithing settlement was all about and told them that the bishop would want to know if we had been full-tithe payers that year. They were both a little apprehensive about going into the bishop’s office. As I continued explaining the purpose of our visit and giving examples of the questions the bishop might ask, I noticed Josh was quieter than usual.
Finally he asked, “Mom, what will I say when the bishop asks me if I paid a full tithe?”
I remembered the GI Joe figure. “Well, Josh, you’ll just have to tell the truth.”
I explained that the bishop wouldn’t be mad, but probably a little disappointed. A few miles went by, and Mark and I began to talk about other things. Joshua was very quiet, and I could see him growing more and more nervous.
Oh, how I wanted to take twenty cents out of my purse and press it into his hand just to see his face light back up with his usual boyish grin. But I knew he needed to learn about accountability, and in this instance, I felt prompted not to give him the money. We headed for the bishop’s office. Joshua grew more reluctant with every step. How my heart ached for him!
When the bishop called us into his office, Josh was the last to enter. My heart was as heavy as his. I almost took the twenty cents and slipped it into his hand, but I felt it was important that I not do so.
The bishop took all our tithing statements and spread them out on his desk. With a smile and a warm greeting, he asked both boys if they knew why we were in his office. They nodded, and then the bishop asked Mark if he knew what tithing was. Mark responded simply and correctly. The bishop then turned to Josh and asked if he knew what a full-tithe payer was. Joshua, with his head lowered, replied, “It means you give Heavenly Father 10 percent of everything you earn.”
The bishop was pleased that the boys understood about tithing settlement. While he was saying what a fine family we were, Josh was agonizing, and I was crying inside for him. The bishop had no idea of the great teaching moment looming ahead.
First the bishop took Mark’s tithing statement. Looking at it, he asked Mark if the twenty-three cents he’d paid that year represented a full tithe.
With a grin, Mark assured him that it did. The bishop thanked Mark for being such a good five-year-old and remembering to do what Heavenly Father asked. He told him how proud he was of him and that Heavenly Father was surely pleased. Mark, of course, enjoyed all the praise. Lower and lower Josh sank in his chair.
Finally, the bishop took Josh’s statement. With a smile, he asked, “Now Joshua, it appears that you paid $2.52 tithing this year. Does that represent a full tithe for you?”
After a few silent, uncomfortable seconds, Josh answered in a cracking voice, “Well, not exactly, but I sure wish it did.”
The bishop looked to me for help, but I’m afraid all he got was a pleading look from tearful eyes. How wise and how kind he was. With much inspiration, he handled the situation exactly right.
“Well, Josh, let me show you something here on this piece of paper. There are two blocks here for me to check. One says ‘full-tithe payer’ and one says ‘part-tithe payer.’”
Showing Josh the blocks on the form, he continued, “Now Josh, do you have a special place at home where you keep important school or Primary papers?”
“Well, Josh, this is going to be a very special tithing statement. I want you to keep this one in your box all your life because it will be the only one you will ever get like this. This one will be marked ‘part-tithe payer,’ but it will be the only one that will be marked that way. From now on, I know you’ll always pay a full tithe, and you’ll always remember the way you feel tonight. You’ll never have to feel this way again.”
Josh could only nod his head as tears rolled down his face and he began to sob. How grateful I was for the loving, beautiful way the bishop impressed upon that eight-year-old’s mind the importance of being a full-tithe payer and the simplicity of repentance.
We learned some great lessons that night in the bishop’s office. My heart and soul ached for my young son as he suffered the consequences of his actions. But how pleased I was that he was honest and willing to repent.
How often does our Father in Heaven ache as he watches us make mistakes? Yet he knows he cannot interfere with our agency. And even when we disappoint him with wrong choices, he loves us freely, unconditionally. How pleased he must be when we recognize our mistakes, honestly admit them, and prayerfully ask for his help and forgiveness.
Because an inspired bishop took a few minutes to turn an awkward moment into a teaching moment, both my sons and I grew closer to our loving, forgiving Heavenly Father.