The Spiritual Cost of Debt

Many churches don’t talk about personal finances unless there is a need for increased giving. Yet the spiritual impact of debt is clear:

  • Financial challenges can ruin marriages, leading to divorce.
  • A family wants to send the kids to Catholic school, but can’t afford the tuition because there are other places where their money is committed.
  • Vocations get postponed because many religious orders or diocesan vocations offices will not accept candidates who have student loan debt.
  • People feel like they can’t be generous givers because their debt is overwhelming.

We are discovering something that Sirach talked about around the time of 200 B.C. Sirach lived in Jerusalem with all of its trade and travelers. He realized that “a man may buy much for little, but pay for it seven times over” (Sirach 20:11). In the affluent United States, we are living Sirach’s warning that out-of-control debt is a quiet monster.

Paying seven times over is what happens to us when we buy stuff using credit cards that never get completely paid off. Debt that just keeps growing is first of all a money problem, but it can become a spiritual problem too, as debt drags us into slavery.

When creditors call day after day, stress will eat away at peace of mind. Overwhelming debt can make people feel isolated, embarrassed, alone, depressed, and powerless.

One of the most amazing things about America’s growing difficulty with debt is what kind of people fall into the pit. Without paying attention to where the money is going, it could easily happen to anyone. There is no common thread among those who get into financial trouble. People with six-figure incomes can get into trouble as easily as someone whose income allows them to barely survive.

Building up credit card debt little by little is barely noticeable. Minimum payments are easy to make. Then something like the CIVOD-19 pandemic hits and the debt balloons out of control. Interest rates and late fees become overwhelming and suddenly those easy minimum payments aren’t so easy anymore.

The way we spend our money is an expression of our faith. We spend our money, time and thoughts on the things which are most important to us. Stop and think for a minute—what are your priorities? Over the last month, where did you spend your time, money and thoughts? Those are your priorities.

How you spend your money is an indication of how you integrate your faith into every aspect of your life. Getting out of debt means intentionally deciding not to define yourself based on what you own.

That’s not to say that spending is inherently wrong, or that treating yourself to some nice things is bad. But how much you buy depends on how much you can afford, and that is a reflection of your values.

It’s amazing how content we can be living a very simple life if we would only make the effort to do it. Reflect on the decrease in spending during the months of lockdown. Nobody was driving anywhere so gas prices plummeted. Restaurants were closed as cooking at home was the wiser option. Nobody was shopping for entertainment since the malls and stores were closed. And the movie theaters, amusement parks and concert venues were all off limits so no money was spent on tickets.

It’s amazing how long we went without spending much.

Consumerism can be an addiction. Your consumerism can consume you just as much as other pursuits can, and that’s not helpful to your pocketbook much less your soul.

People who have dragged their way out of debt say not owing money gives them a sense of joy, freedom and gratitude to God. They live out their understanding that everything they have is a  GIFT from God.  With that understanding comes thankfulness and peace, along with a sense that God will provide for them in good times and bad.

Everything that we have, including our money and possessions ultimately comes from God, not our own efforts. As Paul reiterated in Acts 17:25,  “it is [God] who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.” When you realize this, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to quit accumulating more stuff and building up a monster of debt that’s impossible to tame.

Woodrow Wilson said “The way to stop financial joy-riding is to arrest the chauffeur, not the automobile. “How true that is.  In order to curb overspending and debt we only have to look at ourselves to find the solution.

The Compass Catholic podcast shares more about the spiritual cost of debt.

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