How personal finances can derail your dreams
God dropped this truth bomb on me this morning:
The addiction that almost derailed by biggest faith decision was consumerism.
When I moved to Florida from Louisiana, I knew nobody here, I had no way to pay for the pricey college I was invited to attend, I didn't have a place to live, and I had no job.
With that tight-as-a-tick security net, guess how much money I had in my checking account?
No, that's not missing a zero or two. TWO-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS. That's it! I don't know if that was more faith or foolishness, but it is what it is. The reason I had $250 was not due to my amazing feats of faith in years prior, but due to consumerism. I HAD to have things...everything...anything. I had to have it.
Granted, I only made about $22K/year, but my fixed expenses relative to my income were normal. My discretionary spending was wild and out of control, just as I was.
Spending $100 at a bar on a given night was normal. Buying fancy dresses for no occasion was a regular occurrence. Mind ye, my credit card bills are literally stacking up in the corner of my room. I was for sure the cutest, best dressed, funnest party girl...in debt up to her eyeballs.
As you're reading this story, you shouldn't be judging me, but rather asking:
Anytime someone is acting crazy, you should ask "Why?" It's a small adjustment, but it's the difference in you showing compassion versus judgement. It's the difference between you understanding versus "She's just crazy". And finally it's the difference between you being able to help versus you walking away none the wiser.
So let's answer this question:
Why was I overspending, even with the small income I had? Well, consumerism is an addiction, much like alcohol (which I was also bingeing on), binge eating (guilty, again), sex (yep), drugs, hoarding, etc. etc.
The difference in consumerism and heroine is that heroine is quickly spotted, judged, and penalized (either legally or socially). Whereas consumerism is an issue we neither discuss nor frown upon for this reason:
WE. ARE. ALL. GUILTY.
We all overspend. We all live (or have lived) beyond our means. We all, without question, live beyond our needs.
So we don't talk about it, and we surely don't confront it because Pot. Kettle. Black.
A Broken Leg
Fast forward from my binge shopping days to that time I decided to pack up my car and move to Florida with a monthly credit card bill 10x greater than what my bank account held.
(This is all comical to me in retrospect and 5 years removed, but in the moment it was hellish.)
Because I had no money, I almost had to give up on the dream of living in a place I actually enjoyed (S/O Florida). But this move for me was more than just physical location. It embodied and encompassed my decision to pursue a life I chose, rather than the default one of living where my family settled and working for $22K/year. It wouldn't have been God's fault if He left me there until my consumerism died out. Yet, He is beyond faithful, more than I can ask or even imagine!
When I moved to Florida and spent a week eating only a jar of peanut butter and a half-loaf of bread, it was indeed not because I was Priska The Great and Faithful but because God was breaking me of my addiction. Or at least beginning to.
I just listened to a sermon by Pastor Carl Lentz where he preached from Psalm 23 "The Lord is my shepherd..." Carl described the shepherd/sheep relationship in the time of Psalm's writing. Did you know: It was common for a shepherd to physically break a leg of a wandering sheep in order to teach him to stay near the shepherd. The shepherd would then put the sheep over his shoulders and carry him until his leg healed. Carl went on to say something like this (paraphrased): "God will break your leg to save your life. Your leg will grow back, and that limp you have will be a testimony to save some other wandering sheep, too."
That's what God did with my consumerism. Let me point out a few times when God tried to gently correct me, and then He just had to break my leg:
- When I was 18yo, I was $2000 in debt. I didn't even earn $2000/month! .
- Due to the aforementioned instance and one other, I got out of debt using the Dave Ramsey plan TWICE before I reached 21yo. Most people don't even have debt until they're 21! I lived in the shackle of debt, was set free, got re-shackled and set free, and then again re-shackled. This is not a praise report, but rather a time to scratch your head and think, "She's dealing with something deeper than just a money issue." .
- The PB & bread week. I didn't have the money for anything else. This was actually right after Thanksgiving, too, and I remember seeing all these stupid FaceBook posts from people with these elaborate spreads. Which only hurt my heart worse. God, where y'at?! .
- After a year of living here, continuing to overspend, and partially employed, I had $10,000 in debt that seemed insurmountable. I went to a bankruptcy lawyer to declare bankruptcy, and luckily they told me no. To these 6-figure earning lawyers, $10K was nothing. I ended up just not repaying it, and it was written off by the card company. My credit score was abysmal, but my self-esteem about being THAT PERSON was even worse.
My consumerism/money issues became one of the 2 things I had to tell Russell pre-marriage that I thought would be deal-breakers. Instead, he graciously took on the challenge of helping me become better. (More on this another time.)
In retrospect, it was clear to me that God kept gently correcting me (once through a declined credit card swipe on a Starbucks purchase--low point), but eventually He just broke my leg so that I would have to rely on Him to carry me for awhile and learn His ways, specifically His financial ways.
So I move to Florida, and my financial leg is broken.
(Pause. I just saw this parallel to when you break a bone and it regrows crooked, so the doc has to re-break it, put it in a constrictive cast, and wait for it to heal straight. Wow! Unpause...)
So I move to Florida, the Lord breaks my (crooked) financial leg, and I'm totally dependent on Him.
I eat PB & bread for a week. A few months later, I get a job. This job pays just enough -- I'm a secretary with a high school degree, if that tells you anything. I learn to take every paycheck I receive and sit down with my Heavenly CFO, God Almighty my Provider, and have a budget meeting. With more days in the month than money in the bank, I learn to really rely on God to provide miracles. People gave me money without being asked. People invited me to their homes for meals not knowing I didn't have money to buy food. Without me whining to people, God would just make all this happen.
Miracle after miracle!
So you think I'm cured of consumerism at this point, right? I mean, how hard-headed could I possibly be?! Well, I'll take that as a challenge...
Fast-forward to anytime prior to a year ago. I went to the mall every single Saturday morning to buy heels, dresses, purses, earrings.
Again, you may be inclined to judge me. But instead, I challenge you to ask, "Why?" I've got this amazing husband, just bought a house, making good money. I would justify it saying I wasn't technically overspending. I wasn't getting into debt again. I just was spending every dollar that touched my bank account.
Why was I shopping so much? Because I was dealing with my hatred for my job and the feeling of plateauing in life. Whereas some people might turn to alcohol, drugs, porn, food bingeing or anything else, I turned to retail.
And that's when it hit me. My consumerism isn't about stuff. It's about deep inner emotions that I pacify at the mall. It's about not releasing those areas of stress and tension at the foot of the cross, but instead throwing them on my back and trudging them throughout life. Then, I'm so miserable and sore that I do what I need to feel happy, and for me that was always a new pair of heels.
My Growth Path
Honestly, every year in the last 5 years I've grown a little more in my understanding of consumerism as an addiction, and I've broken free just a little more. Here's the timeline of my evolution (which is totally going to keep my ego in check. Here goes nothing...):
- 5 years ago -- I go bust on a $10K credit card bill. My credit is total crap, as is my self-esteem. (Leg broken)
- 4 years ago -- Consumer debt almost derailed my dream. Maybe I should stop spending more than I make. K.
- 3 years ago -- Consumerism is derailing my dreams. Maybe I should stop spending everything I make.
- 2 years ago -- Shopping may feel good in the moment, but it doesn't fix the underlying problems in my life.
- 1 year ago -- I need to identify the triggers for when I compulsively shop. What issues am I dealing with that feel so out of control that I run to the mall to feel in control of my emotions again?
- 8 months ago -- I'm no longer interested in making so much money to buy all these things that pacify my aching heart over unfulfilled dreams. If I let go of consumerism, I'll have the freedom to actually pursue my dreams!
- Lunchtime, today -- My husband makes the keen observation that God isn't going to keep supernaturally providing just so I can squander it. What truth!
See, I'm still evolving. I'm not perfect, and I still spend at times I shouldn't. (I've also been known to eat a whole package of Oreo's or drink til I blackout, but thankfully neither of those are appealing anymore. PTL!) Russell has been so gracious to love, lead, correct, and listen to me even though consumerism is blatantly illogical to him. Without him, I'd be in serious debt, still spinning in the hamster wheel just trying to earn more money. Russell is a living sign of God's grace in my life!
Is The Lord Your Lord?
Why is it that God has been so faithful to help me evolve these last 12 years of learning financial management?
This is where I'm going to go down a path you weren't expecting. But hey, I'm forewarning you ;)
This blog post isn't actually about debt. It's about Lordship. It's about WHO is controlling you. Mr. Visa? Sir Mastercard?? Lord American Express?
What about THE. LORD.? Who is the Lord over your spending habits? I'm still working to completely change the answer to this question, but I mustn't wait to speak because: Consumerism is one of the biggest derailers of dreams. And not just of dreams, but of our true purpose, our true calling, using the gifts God so carefully crafted us with and the passions He instilled deep in our hearts, truly enjoying our lives, having the freedom to not over-work so we can actually raise our children right, having freedom to go on vacation and make lifelong memories. Instead of living our dreams we get enslaved to work we hate, doing what we weren't gifted to do because that crappy job pays our bills to feed our overspending habits, which prevents us from taking on the start-up costs of our dreams. And then our children tell us their dreams and we respond, "But how are you going to pay the bills?" And that leech called lack is planted in the minds of the next generation. CONSUMERISM is derailing some amazing dreams, and we have to stop it!
Tithing + Consumerism
My final point comes down to this. Tithing is your statement to the Lord that He is YOUR LORD. It's a covenant relationship whereas God will continue to teach you and correct you, and yes, break your leg if need be in order to salvage your financial future. To be very clear: whether or not you tithe, God loves you infinitely. His love for you isn't more if you tithe and less if you don't. Tithing just invites Him to put protection around you financially. It is not blanket protection from bankruptcy or losing your house or another means of breaking a leg, but that He will be so faithful to redeem your finances long-term. It is long-term protection.
I have tithed my entire life. During all 3 times when I was in debt and even when I did not pay my credit card obligation, I still tithed. Due to tithing, God retained the covenant of teaching me better financial management. This morning, He dropped this other truth bomb on me:
Tithing is not just so God will increase my income. Tithing is also so I can learn to be content with what I already have. Tithing combats consumerism.
Consumerism = I always want more. More money, more toys, more positive admiration from people I don't really care about, more competition with the Joneses.
Tithing = What I have is enough. God has provided all my needs according to HIS riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4) More giving is more living. I can actionably love people in need locally and globally because I'm not so consumed with advertisements that derail my focus on loving people. God's love is everything I need. Not more brands and labels and the latest, greatest, shiniest whatever that I don't even know how to use.
Tithing cannot out-grace your retail addiction, because the point is not to out-earn your overspending. The point in everything God does is eternity. Our willingness to tithe reveals if our hearts are focused on eternity.
As the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry said at the royal wedding this past weekend:
Think and imagine a world where love is the way. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.
He's not talking about love of stuff but love of people. Love of stuff leads to more poverty in the world. Love of people leads to poverty being eradicated.
(Side note: I wonder if God looks down on earth and thinks, "I've given THEM all they need, but some have been stingy while the others starve." Our resources are better spent caring for people than on our closets, cars and credit cards. But our grand intentions of giving greatly are derailed by our consumerism.)
Malachi 3 says:
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land."
These 3 verses show us 3 results of tithing:
- The floodgates of Heaven will open and rain blessings -- Hello, increase!
- Pests will not devour our crops -- Goodbye, consumerism!
- Nations will call us blessed -- Glory to God!!
See, God wants this result. He really does. But the covenant relationship between He and you for financial prosperity is initiated by you giving Him the tithe first. He cannot make you tithe. You have to initiate His blessings and protection by tithing.
So just do it, K? ;)
What I've learned in the past decade is this:
Consumerism is an addiction that leads to the shackle of debt. It isn't the disease, but the symptom. The disease is turning to STUFF to fix problems that only God can. God begins fixing your financial mess the moment you tithe. It's a step of faith that reaps blessing upon blessing. If I want a secure financial future, take a step of faith and tithe.
I'm praying that God breaks the shackle of consumerism and debt off of His Church in America and world-wide. I pray we will LISTEN to Him and receive His rebuke with keen ears and soft hearts. And I pray every person who reads this is encouraged to tithe, or continue to tithe.
He is faithful!