In the last few years, freedom has become increasingly important to me. Freedom in who I am and living out who I am created to be. Freedom to work the way that suits me best and that serves my family well. While the path to those freedoms hasn’t always been easy, I have been delighted to work towards them because the work was a means to and end that I wanted VERY much.
However there was one area of our lives that always loomed over us like a dark cloud - freedom in our finances. It wasn’t that we were out buying new cars or that I had a secret shopping problem. It wasn’t that we didn’t want freedom, or think it was important. While we certainly could have made plenty of smarter choices, it was really a series of choices made in desperation that lead to debt we were paying on for years. Like the red car that needed THREE new transmissions in three years. Or the emergency root canal. Or the sick kiddo who needed treatment. These things piled up years ago when we didn’t have the opportunities we do now - but they were hard to get rid of. We were never in a dire financial position, but we never seemed to be able to do enough to get completely out of debt. Torn between needs for now and paying off debt that had already occurred was a constant, discouraging tension.
Can I pause here for a minute and say that there is a certain shame that I felt about these things? It wasn’t from any one person, and I certainly don’t believe it was intentional, but there seemed to be an underlying message that having debt makes you LESS than. Less accepted, less pleasing to God, less responsible or trustworthy. Less than others who are debt free. Less than even when you are currently making smart choices because you are not yet totally debt free. Maybe I’m the only one who has ever felt that way (and just shared it on the inter-webs) but I doubt that is the case.
I think that a life preoccupied with things can be an idol that leads us to made bad financial decisions, but I also believe a life that is CONSUMED with the desire to be debt free is idolatrous. Before you throw your envelope system at me… hear me out!
This past January we decided to flip our house to make a few things possible: attending a particular school for our kiddos, sharing a home with extended family and paying off debt. The prospect of being debt free after so many years with those payments was an exciting and driving force. It helped us complete an insane amount of projects and was a huge motivator to act now rather than later. Once our house sold we paid off most of our debt - credit cards, our car and medical bills. I felt excited… but also kind of let down. I kept waiting for some kind of elated feeling to come, some type of internal satisfaction or peace or joy from freedom from our debt. And it didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong - I am BEYOND grateful. I am aware of the fact that I prayed for this for years and that God has been faithful to answer in ways that are so perfect. I am floored at His timing and His plans. Yet I think He knew that I would feel this sense of disappointment because I was putting all of my hopes in the wrong thing. As much as God is for freedom, and freedom from debt, he is MORE concerned with the freedom of my heart from worshipping anything that is not him. Both the heart that expects to find freedom and joy in things, and the heart that expects to find joy and hope in the absence of debt will fall short because these things are not designed to give us lasting life and peace. They are a part of our here and now - but they are not meant to satisfy us because they are not our Creator.
So be wise and responsible - follow sound financial advice. Don’t use credit cards, have an emergency savings and tell yourselves no to things that you don’t really need. These things will allow you to have the freedom to make choices based on what you love instead of what you can afford. It will allow you to give in extravagant ways and to not feel the crushing weight of debt and financial stress. But don’t for one minute believe that the balance of your debt (either at zero or with lots of zeros behind a number) determines who you are, or the sense of peace and satisfaction you will feel. True and lasting peace isn’t about your checking account - it’s about trusting our Creator with our lives and hearts, and letting Him be what satisfies us and makes us whole.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Phil. 4:12