It's tax time again. Like millions of other Americans, my wife and I are in the throes of itemizing our deductions, sorting through stacks of bills and canceled checks. For years I dreaded this chore, putting it off until the last possible minute, grousing about the cost in time and money.
Then I stumbled on to a way to ease the pain--just slightly, to be sure, but I welcome any relief from the annual attack of tax forms.
One winter morning years ago I was contemplating this boring annual battle when over the radio came the strains of "Turn! Turn! Turn!"--a popular song of the moment, based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, proclaiming that there is a God-given time for everything we do.
A time for everything? A God-given time for filling out tax forms?
Well, why not? God knew I had to do my rendering-unto-Caesar. If He had provided the proper time for this chore, then I ought to learn to recognize it. If I did, might I turn the dread task into something better than sheer drudgery?
That's how it started, this quest for "God's moment" for filling out my tax return.
For once I actually looked at the calendar, really looked at it, instead of finding to my amazement that April 15 was next week. I asked God to show me the proper moment for doing my taxes, then decided to allow Him six weeks to provide that time. March 1 seemed a reasonable date for starting my experiment.
My wife, Tibby, watched as I spread out my papers on a card table in the living room. I made two signs with a Magic Marker: INCOME and EXPENSES. On the income side of the table went the W-2 forms, statements from the bank, a notice of a bond that had matured. On the other side I put various receipts for deductions.
So far it was the same procedure I'd followed in previous years. But this time I started early, and I made no effort to organize the different records. I just spread them out and waited.
Every evening after work I passed that card table, eyeing the bits of paper that seemed like jigsaw puzzle pieces looking for a fit. I had been half expecting some sort of this-is-the-moment revelation, but none came. Would I have to slug out my tax return as always?
Then on March 17, more than two weeks after I first spread out my tax papers, we had a snowstorm. The plows are always late getting to our street, so I canceled appointments and took a holiday. I lit a fire in the fireplace, intending to catch up on some reading. But as I passed the card table my eyes fell on the date of a canceled check. Casually I began to shuffle a few more receipts, putting them in order by month and day as, of course, I'd always done.
This time, though, there was a difference. Always before, I only thought about the numbers, never about what the numbers represented.
But...these receipts were telling a story! Here was the charge-card receipt for a dinner Tib and I had while on assignment in Louisiana. "Honey," I called out, "remember that restaurant in New Orleans where we had the crayfish?" For a few moments we relived our trip. A little later I called again, "Do you remember the day when...?" By the time the fire had died out I'd gone through most of our receipts. And Tib and I had spent a morning reminiscing.
Since that beginning, years ago, it would be an exaggeration to say I now look forward to tax time. But I do find a sense of release from the utter boredom of tax filing. By seeking God's moment, I have gained a little time-island in which to step back, review the year and get perspective on our lives.
For one thing, each March we find ourselves appreciative of having an income at all. For another, tax time is an opportunity to look at charitable contributions. The way we spend our money says a lot about what we find important. Some donations are standard, year after year; our church, missions, United Way, ecological concerns. Others are responses to emergency needs, such as famine or earthquake. Do we have yesterday's and tomorrow's priorities where they belong?
Over the years little scraps of paper--tax receipts--have become snapshots of our lives. One summer we rented our home, so that year, repairs and maintenance were in part deductible. As I organized the records, Tib and I remembered a man who came with his teenage son to paint our house. Robert teaches art in our local community college but his real specialty is quality. "Will you ever forget Robert and his boy up on those ladders with vacuum cleaners!" They'd been sucking away the dust from sanding, to ensure a good bond for the new layer of paint.
Any good planning can keep tax time from being a crisis, but it won't keep it from being a bore. For me the right moment--God's moment--for doing taxes has come to mean expecting a gift from him, a time of unplanned leisure during which I review the past and make plans for the future. With this gift I can look back with gratitude, and ahead with new perspective.