The Elephant in the Room

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a conversation with some friends when all of a sudden someone brings up the topic of finances…and even worse…debt? I don’t know about you, but I sure have. The light mood all of the sudden becomes tense; it feels like you could hear a cricket from a mile away. In today’s society, we are trained that we must be tolerant of everyone’s actions; therefore, no one wants to tell another person that they are wrong in-person and/or be told that they are wrong. That, coupled with the fact that there are unlimited ways for which an individual can spend money that is not necessarily wrong but simply shows different values, makes conversations revolving around finances very difficult.

Even though I work in a financial institute, I often find myself standing in the middle of conversations like these still leery to give input. The Bible clearly states “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7); “The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives” (Psalm 37:21); and “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). So why do we often become so defensive in conversations revolving around debt when the Bible clearly speaks of this subject?

There are times when I do gain the confidence to share my story of how I paid off my debt, but I am often met with statements like, “That’s great for you, but I can’t do that;” “You only had $16,000 in debt. I have…” or “I’m tired of having the large loan payments, but I am not willing to give up…” and; “I had no choice. I had to graduate with debt.”

It’s true. One can and often does graduate with more than $16,000 in debt, but I wouldn’t have been able to graduate with that low debt if I had not applied for numerous scholarships, filled out the FAFSA, chosen Indiana Wesleyan University because their financial aid package came back within a range I could afford, and worked during college putting 50-75% of my net income towards paying for college. And I would not have paid off $16,000 of debt in ten months without humbling myself as I chose to move back in with my mom, still paying a small rent, meticulously planning out my homemade meals each week, only eating out once a month (if that), and choosing to limit myself to only join social activities such as game nights, movie nights, or dinners, because I did not want to choose entertainment over paying for my loans.

My heart is heavy with the tension that often revolves around the topic of debt; and I am saddened by all of the feelings such as shame, fear of the unknown, fear of judgment, fear of being countercultural, and fear of change that we know is necessary but is also difficult. Yes, life is hard and debt is not always avoidable, but there is freedom in the biblical principles of money management that we often do not truly seek. Debt is not an easy topic by any means, but we must be willing to ask ourselves the hard questions. Is there a want that we can give up to minimize the debt we take on? Do the benefits of this debt truly outweigh the future consequences? Will we be able to better serve God by taking on this debt, or will we be mortgaging our future? We must ask and answer these questions before taking on debt.