Find Financial Freedom through Giving
- Thursday, January 05, 2012
It was the day that will forever divide my life into “before” and “after.” We’d just lost our business, our home was about to be foreclosed and neither my husband nor I had jobs. We couldn’t even qualify for unemployment benefits. Did I mention debt? We had that in spades. Things were really bad. As life came crashing down on me that Saturday in 1982, I was without hope.
From childhood I had secretly dreamed about the day I could leave home, marry well and become rich. And I did. I married a banker! Life should have been grand. Just one problem. Bankers don’t really make the kind of money I had in mind. I found a way to supplement my husband’s paltry salary. That first credit card led to a second and then to four and more. I never intended to actually use them, just have them in case of emergency. Let’s just say that I had a few “emergencies.”
I ran up debt faster than my husband could pay the bills. Soon we relied on the minimum monthly payment feature which became my undoing. I wanted to stop; I hated the terrible fights, the deceit and manipulation required to keep up my spending sprees. But the euphoria I’d get when I could buy stuff I really wanted was so awesome; to me, it was somehow worth the pain.
But now there was no more credit. I was at the end of the line, flat on my back. That’s when I had an encounter with the God of the universe that would forever change my life. For the first time I realized it wasn’t our pathetic income or rotten luck. It was me. I’d been trying to fill the hole in my heart with stuff. And more was never enough. The more I bought, the greedier I became. That day, for the first time, I knew that only God could fill my heart, restore my life and give me a reason to live. Money, credit and stuff could never do that. I’d been looking for security in MasterCard and Visa instead of relying on God to keep his promises to meet all our needs. I poured out my heart and begged God to forgive me for what I’d done and the mess I’d made.
More than a few people have asked me, “How on earth did you repay more than $100,000 in unsecured consumer debt and keep your life going at the same time?”
To tell you the truth, I am not sure how we did that, exactly. I wasn’t taking notes because I never dreamed I would tell anyone what we were going through. It was embarrassing. But as I look back from where I am now, I can recall the many opportunities God provided for us to earn the money to repay the debt. And I have to admit that it is amazing.
What I do know is that day when I got up from the floor and gave my life over to God’s care. I knew Scripture was pretty clear on this matter of giving (Rule #3 in my new book, 7 Money Rules for Life, Revell Books, 2012). And I knew that I’d blown it big time.
What I didn’t know then was that God knows about my needs, he cares about my wants, and he wants to bless me. But it’s dependent on my willingness to be obedient. It is an “if then” kind of thing. He says, “If you do this, then I will do that.”
Here’s my paraphrase of God’s promises: “If you will obey me, then I will bless you. And the more I see that I can trust you, the more I will bless you. All I ask is that you give away part of everything I hand to you. I want you to care for the needy and bless those who are poor and hungry. Go ahead, trust me on this if you think it might not be true. Just see if you can out-give me. As you are faithful to bless others, I will take care of you and provide for all of your needs. And more than that, once you prove that you are trustworthy, I will pour out a blessing on you that will be so great, you will not be able to hold all of it.”
We started giving to God (Rule 3) and saving for the future (Rule 2) from whatever money we received, even when we were deeply in debt. We tried hard to give and save consistently, even when it was in very small amounts. And one by one, the opportunities materialized. I got a job, which after three years let to us starring out own business. We moved into a new home, were able to provide for our two sons’ educations, and we got out of debt.
In a way, I guess you could say that we gave and saved our way out of debt. That’s the only explanation I have for how we paid back that enormous amount of debt including all of the interest, penalties and fees. We didn’t win the lottery or receive an inheritance. We just kept going for 13 long years until we reached the goal.
I cannot say that my battles with greed are over. That enemy has a way of lifting its ugly head when I least expect it. I know that I could so easily go right back to where I was if it were not for a mind-set of generous giving, a habit that changed the equation of my life. Giving has freed me from the stranglehold of materialism.
I have lived in the darkness of greed and debt. And I’ve lived on the receiving end of God’s promise to reward trustworthiness. I highly recommend the latter.
Mary Hunt is the author of 7 Money Rules for Life (Revell, 2012) and is founder and publisher of Debt-Proof Living (formerly Cheapskate Monthly). Her daily personal finance column, Everyday Cheapskate, is read in over 80 newspapers. Hunt speaks widely on personal finance and has appeared on shows such as Oprah, Good Morning America and Dr. Phil. She and her husband live in California. For more information visit: http://www.debtproofliving.com/.
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