The spiritual side of getting out of debt

Note: This post is religious in nature. If you’re not interested in that, I totally understand.

It’s not in my typical purview to discuss religious things in an open forum. While I have no problem discussing it in a one-on-one setting where reason, debate and healthy questioning can flourish, it seems that modern discussion of such things online often deteriorate into misunderstanding and hostility, of which I have no interest in participating.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the part that my faith has played in our journey in becoming debt free, so I wanted to share my story. Everyone believes in something, but this is my journey. If you choose to follow down a debt-free path, I hope you share your experience as well.

There are many Judeo-Christian texts that highlight the importance of knowing how to handle money. I’m not referring to the gross prosperity gospel — a belief that God will reward you financially if you are obedient — but rather practical, ancient advice on how to handle financial matters.

For example, here are a few things that Judeo-Christian text warn about with regard to finances:

  • “One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.” – Proverbs 17:8. This is a clear warning not to co-sign for others. It’s literally saying you’re stupid for doing so.
  • “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” – Proverbs 22:7. Fairly clear cut advice, that borrowing money makes you a slave to the one who loaned it to you.
  • “During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.” – Genesis 41:47-49. Here we see a warning to take advantage of prosperous times save for the inevitable bad times that will come.
  • “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” – Luke 14:28-30. Put another way, “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Two years ago in 2016, I felt a spiritual calling to move to a different city. I wasn’t sure how much this would positively impact my life, other than I was tired of commuting 50 minutes each way. I certainly knew plenty of people who did the commute from the city I lived in to the city I worked, and considered it “just the way it is.” But I could not escape this tug. I told my wife about the urge to move, and she reluctantly agreed. Like myself, she didn’t really want to move from the city we lived in (we loved it dearly), but she agreed we should follow this “call.”

Our house sold in six days. We moved two months later, and things haven’t been the same since. Within a week after moving, I was officially converted from a contract employee to a full-time employee, giving me benefits, more take home pay, and a solid foundation to make progress on our debt. We attended Financial Peace University, which is rooted in religious principles but is certainly not exclusive; if you have no religious affiliation you’re more than welcome to attend. We made a commitment to go all-in on our debt payoff, and on Sept. 11, 2016, began to work diligently on becoming debt-free.

From the upbringing of my youth, I remembered there was a passage in Proverbs that read, “Dedicate your plans to the Lord and you will succeed.” Well, I thought that was a bunch of hogwash. See, I had been committing a fair amount of plans and nothing was coming of it. It was only until I re-read that passage in late 2017 that I realized my mistake: I had completely misremembered it. The real passage reads like so: “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established” – Proverbs 16:3.

You see, there is an important distinction between plans and work. It’s pretty easy to think your planning is the same as action, but it’s not. It’s the beginning of action, but not the follow through. It’s interesting how these passages can have both a spiritual and a practical value to them. The revelation of my mistake hit me hard. So, I decided to give it another shot. I wrote that verse out on a piece of paper with a challenge written underneath: “Are you there, God?”

Things changed.

My wife and I changed course at the beginning of the year. We doubled down on our efforts. “If we did this, this, this, and this, we could be debt free by the end of October 2018,” I told her. She was in.

But October wasn’t my real goal. My actual plan — the one I wanted to see established (you can read that word as “to be made true”) was that I wanted to be out of debt by July 26, 2018. That date is our 15-year anniversary, and I couldn’t think of a better present. While we were dating, my wife revealed to me the extent of her debt. I brought some to the marriage, but hers was twice the amount. Getting a master’s degree all on student loans can do that. Realistically, I had a choice to make: do I walk away from this, or do I saddle up and see what happens? I obviously chose the latter.

I had my actual plans, but how could that work? I looked at the possibility of taking on another job. I was content to do whatever I could get my hands on. Amy agreed to take on extra kid-rearing duties while I worked extra, so now I just had to find something. I inquired into possibly being a pizza delivery driver, a janitor, or even security at one of the nearby casinos. But another opportunity came that fit me perfectly. It was almost too good to be true.

Using the freelance website Upwork, I secured a gig that had me doing something I know pretty well:

  • I did web development work (what I do full-time),
  • for members of the United States House of Representatives (I previously worked in government for nine years),
  • in a web software called Drupal (which I also work in full-time and have for many years),
  • using a tool called Coda to complete the job (which I happened to write about five years ago, but haven’t used it much since then until this year).

To top it all off, my duties changed at work about a month before my side job, began, allowing me more freedom to work two jobs without getting completely burned out.

Everything just fell into place, just like that. I have never had so many positive things line up so wonderfully than it has this year. And it all worked: we are going to be out of debt by, early even, my desired goal of July 26, 2018.

So what’s the point of this discourse? As I said, we all believe in something. I’ll leave that to you to figure out what. But when it comes to achieving Big Hairy Goals, especially paying off debt, I don’t believe it’s all numbers. There’s psychological, spiritual, philosophical, and other factors that come into play. I would encourage everyone to look deep at what can help motivate them, to guide them, to drive them.

I am a deeply flawed, very imperfect human being. But my faith has played an important role since started this journey in earnest 21 months ago. And fortunately for me, it’s grown stronger for me this year for the better.

I hope you find your strength as well.

 

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