When the Bills Keep Piling Up

A couple of weeks back, I talked about how we’re starting to grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-related measures we’ve taken and urged you to heed the promises in Scripture with respect to anxiety about the future. This week, I want to continue to press into that theme from a slightly different angle.

Pre-COVID Debt

One of the things that makes the financial damage more difficult for many is that it’s compounding a problem that already existed: personal debt. Losing a job—even temporarily—is bad enough; losing a steady stream of income and not being able to service existing debt because of it is even worse.

And that’s the scenario many find themselves in right now, especially in Metro Vancouver. The COVID pandemic came at a time when household credit market debt in Canada was at 175.9% of disposable income, and the debt service ratio (the amount of gross income needed to service debt) rose to almost 15%.

Back in December 2019 when these statistics were published, the governor of the Bank of Canada warned that elevated household debt levels were the economy’s biggest vulnerability. That would be a bad time for something like a global virus pandemic to hit. And now that it has, we’re dealing with two issues: an enormous amount of debt and a lack of income to service it.

Caught in Quicksand

If you find yourself in a situation where your COVID-induced financial worries are compounded because of pre-existing debt, it feels like you’re stuck in quicksand and you’re just sinking deeper. And the more you struggle, the harder it seems to get out of it.

What can you do? Fortunately, you can get out from the debt trap, but it’s going to take honesty, hard work, and a transformed heart. That last one is especially important for Christians stuck in debt: your situation is a spiritual issue that needs to be treated spiritually.

Before I say more on that, let me emphasize that if you’re in debt, there are options available to you, and I’d encourage you to reach out to the Credit Counselling Society of BC, whose resources are extremely helpful. I’m happy to walk with you through that process if you’d like the help, so please ask.

Debt Is Spiritual

Let me put my cards on the table here: I strongly dislike debt of any kind, and I avoid it in my life. That being said, my personal view on debt is probably too strong, because—and this is important—not all debt is bad. Some debt is necessary and even helpful.

The key question to ask, though, is this: why am I in debt in the first place? Asking this question—and being relentless in pursuit of the real answer—will help you get to the place where your heart can be transformed.

To answer this question, you need to employ the rule of three whys, which is exactly what it sounds like: you need to ask why more than once to get to what’s really going on.

Why, why, why?

So, for example, why are you in debt? The answer: because you spent more money than you had. That’s a true answer, but not a helpful one. That’s why you need to ask the second why: why did I spend more money than I had? (And yes, I know that there are a lot of whys in this paragraph!)

The answers to that second why are numerous, but, to use an example, let’s say the answer is that you spent more than you had because you just don’t have enough income. Now we ask the third why: why don’t you have enough income?

And now we’re getting somewhere. When you ask that third why—and when you’re honest enough to answer it—you’re driven to take action. You might find that you truly don’t make enough to cover necessities. If that’s the case, then you need to figure out how to bring in more income, and that usually involves a change of job. That’s your call to action.

You might also find that your income isn’t enough to cover your expenses because your expenses are just too high, and that’s also a call to action.

Maybe you don’t have enough income because you’re trapped in another cycle: the cycle of performance. You see your friends on social media posting pictures of the awesome things they’re doing, and you just have to do the same because, ultimately, you feel like you’re missing something, and you need that void to be filled.

Walking in Freedom

If that’s the case, then the spiritual solution is simple: you need to believe that Christ is enough and that he’s declared you to be enough. Where you are weak, he is strong. Where you lack, he provides abundance. The void you’re trying to fill with things is only properly filled by his presence and power in your life.

Of course, the simple solution is rarely the easy solution, and that’s the case here. You can’t do it by yourself, so get help. Come and talk to me. Talk to a Christian friend. Submit yourself to accountability and oversight. Allow the Holy Spirit to change your mind and your habits.

It might be a long journey, but it’s one that you can walk with the Spirit’s power and with the community of God’s people. Don’t wait. Take action now. There’s a better, debt-free pathway available to you. And on that pathway, you’ll find freedom to love and serve your true master, Jesus.

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