Doing Something Different

Have you ever seen a movie or TV show (usually a comedy) where the main character is trying to bail out a boat that is filling with water, but he never stops to plug the holes? My little Noah loves “Tom and Jerry” and they seem to have this scenario regularly. It is terribly funny to my kids, because no matter how hard Tom bails, the boat always sinks, and there is usually a very funny shark waiting. Many of you are in a boat just like Tom’s when it comes to debt. You are bailing like crazy and seem to be getting nowhere, when the real answer is that if you are ever going to keep your boat from sinking, you are first going to have to plug the holes. You just can’t keep doing what you have been doing and expect different results. Your boat will sink. It’s not enough to just have a plan for bailing the water out if you haven’t yet stopped the leaks that are still letting the water in. I want to deal with one of those leaks today.

I was talking to one of my dear friends the other day about my climbing the mountain of debt analogy (click here to see the blog) and she very profoundly said, “Tracy, the thing is, you can only start to climb the mountain of debt if you’ve stopped making more debt. Otherwise you are not dealing with a mountain you can climb, you are dealing with an addiction.” I just pointed at her and said, “That is what I have to write about, and why I have to keep writing!” Many of us do not equate our spending habits and impulse buying with addiction and yet many times that is what is actually triggering our spending. There is a certain satisfaction and even sometimes an endorphin rush that can come from shopping. It’s like in that moment you don’t feel poor, or deprived, you feel happy and you don’t even think about the consequences of your actions (your debt). This can be a very difficult cycle to break, and one in which you definitely need God’s strength and His perspective on what is actually motivating your spending.

Anything that you turn to fill a need in your heart, that isn’t God, is going to end up stealing from you instead of adding to you. In fact, my Dad often defines “Sin” as this: filling a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. It is not your need that is wrong, it is what you do with your need and how you fill it. So what is it that is really going on in your heart when you go and treat yourself to a new outfit when you know it is going to go straight onto your debt pile? It’s not that God doesn’t want you to have the outfit. He truly does want you to be provided for and even to have beautiful things, He just doesn’t want those things to have your heart. Not because they are evil, but because He knows that they are empty and will only stir your appetite for more, which will again leave you empty and only lead you further and further into bondage and debt. Whatever spending you turn to in order to meet the needs of your heart and your emotions is going to end up as waste and costing you more than you even paid. That is not God’s heart for you. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life and that you may have it more abundantly.” He is the source of life and everything else is just an empty substitute, with a huge price tag in terms of debt and bondage.

I remember watching Oprah Winfrey a few years ago and hearing her talk about the struggles she has had with weight. It was her conviction that until you deal with why you are eating and why you are fat in the first place, it will be difficult to ever lose the weight and keep it off. I think this is so true for debt as well. If you do not look at the “why” to your spending, your heart will just rebel from any type of budgeting “diet” and you will end up worse than you started. For her own reasons for eating she said, “I’ve used food to relieve stress, for comfort, and to momentarily stand in for joy.” I think many of us have done the exact same thing with spending money. But whether it is spending, or food, or alcohol, or gambling, or any other addiction, the real answer that you need is the presence of God in your life. You need His comfort, His Spirit guiding you when it comes to shopping and spending, and your heart truly infused with His purpose for your life and your finances. As we looked at yesterday, the answer to waste is to bring purpose into the equation. I believe that as you get a purpose for your resources that is bigger than just your needs, your desires will change and you will actually want to stop wasting your money. Furthermore, as you begin to recognize what is triggering your impulse buying, you can begin to take those very legitimate needs of maybe loneliness, or stress, or hopelessness, or sadness, and take them to the only one who truly knows your heart and what you need and who will not just temporarily placate the need, but actually satisfy it.

If you are still spending beyond what you are making and incurring more debt, you have got to take the time to examine what is going on in your heart. Ask God to show you, because until you recognize your need and begin to fill it in a legitimate way, you will continue to have difficulty breaking the spending cycle and ever getting your boat above water. Are you in rebellion from any form of restraint? Are you despondent about your situation and spending just to feel better and get that mini shopping “high”? Are you in denial of your debt and spending anyway because you just don’t want to think about it? Or are you like Oprah and spending to “relieve stress, for comfort, and to momentarily stand in for joy.” Spending money is not an answer to a spiritual or emotional need… in fact, it is just an illusion of what you are truly seeking and needing and it comes with a terrible price tag of debt and stealing from your future. For instance, if you have used impulse spending as a way to relieve stress in your life, it is so important to recognize this so that you can ask the Lord for creative ideas to manage your stress which are not financially destructive.

So, if you are in debt today, are you still currently making more debt? If the answer is “yes” to this question, I want to ask you “Why?” Especially if you have followed my plan and set a budgeting plan in place for your income, why are you still spending money beyond what you earn as income? Are you trying to fill a legitimate need in an illegitimate way? God’s heart for you is freedom, but the first step toward your freedom is repairing the holes in the bottom of the boat. Budgeting will absolutely lead you to a better life, and keep you from drowning in debt, but first you need to quit spending what you don’t have. You can’t keep hitting your thumb with a hammer and praying that God will heal your thumb at the same time, and you can’t keep spending on credit and expect to be free from your debt. It is time to do something different. It is time to plug the holes in the bottom of the boat.