Debt Reduction vs. Wealth Building
I have written in previous posts about the fact that I read blogs of other people fighting debt. These readings serve to help me keep my resolve in focused debt reduction, and I access them through the people and organizations I follow on Twitter. As I search for articles that relate to where we’re at in our journey out of debt, I often sift out those to do with investments and savings. There is an overlap between writings on the subject of debt reduction and those on the subject of wealth building, and while I’m 100% in when it comes to eliminating debt, I struggle with the concept of building wealth. Where I associate debt reduction with becoming responsible, exercising discipline, and cleaning up my act, I have a stubbornly ingrained (and false) association of wealth building with greed and selfishness.
Delving into Faith
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote the post “Debt Reduction and Guilt: Facing the Sabotage from Within”. In it, I explained how faulty interpretations of certain Bible passages had taken root in me long ago, leading me to associate money and rich people with all that is bad. It’s slightly risky, at least in Canada, to quote the Bible when sharing a personal issue – like personal debt – because it can alienate the listener or the reader. But debt reduction is many-layered, and leaving out the spiritual side of it gives an incomplete picture of the experience. A colleague of mine who reads this blog and who is not Christian told me last year, after reading the post mentioned above, “You’re one of the few people who can quote the Bible without leaving me angry.” That gives me some encouragement to delve into the subject again, risky as it is to do so.
Physical Fitness ǁ Financial Fitness
I remember once listening to a Christian radio show as I drove my car. The guest was a man well into his sixties who was talking about physical fitness and the need, with age, to include in daily work-outs progressively higher ratios of weight-bearing exercise, as opposed to cardio exercise, in order to remain strong and healthy. People were able to phone in, and one man who did so said, “As Christians, we are called upon to serve others, so how can we be so selfish as to justify spending a half-hour or an hour a day training for fitness?” The question irritated me. Of course you have to look after yourself if you’re going to be of any use to anyone else, I thought. And how does it serve others to become out of shape?
I get that concept with physical fitness, so what stands in the way of my adopting the same attitude with financial fitness? With debt-freedom and steadily building savings, I would have more flexibility to give generously to my church and local charities. I would have more power to donate to international efforts, like the emergency relief now underway in the Philippines. These are good things. And they can more readily be done by people who have built up some wealth. Of course you have to look after your own money if you’re going to be of any financial support to others, I should be thinking of my own bias. How generous can you be when you’re debt-ridden?
Remembrance Day and “Freedom”
Last Sunday in church, the service began with a segment in honour of Remembrance Day. “They died for our freedom,” is the message we hear at this time of year, and for me it’s moving because both my father and my grandfather served in war. It is an especially powerful message for a Christian in church because Christ served and died “to set the captive free” (Luke 4:18). I looked up the word “freedom” in three different dictionaries (I realize that’s a pretty nerdy thing to do), and in each, there are two parts to the definition:
1. having power to determine action
2. the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
Freedom is a gift that many of us squander. It’s a gift that we undermine by being careless with our power and becoming captive to things like addictions, materialism, pride, fear . . . and debt. So how do we honour this gift and the sacrifices made for it? “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We honour the gift of freedom by living it fully and in gratitude – and by “standing firm” in vigilance to maintain it. Carelessness means slipping back into captivity.
I want to shake off my discomfort with the concept of wealth building. I know rationally that the negative connotations with which I associate it are false. And I know that the freedom inherent in financial fitness has the potential to be good. We’re still a long way from paying off our debt and getting our financial house in order. Time will tell if we maintain the discipline necessary to keep things going in a positive direction once we’re out of the red. Time will tell if we use our growing financial freedom well and generously or if we squander it foolishly. My hope is that we will embrace it and that we’ll “stand firm” to maintain it – because I don’t like captivity. It is for freedom that we are set free. I want to live it.