Three years ago, having returned home from a four-year tour spent teaching in other towns, I sat down and realized a frustration: I wasn’t any closer to paying off my college debts than when I left.
There were a number of reasons. Teaching doesn’t pay squat, of course (though I wouldn’t want it to become a six-figure profession lest it start attracting gold diggers). But it was also the endless parade of car troubles, time and money spent driving back home to keep in touch with people, and mission trips to attend. It was a situation where I couldn’t spot any flagrantly bad choices with my money (and I’m hard on myself, so if there had been, I’d have acknowledged it). Yet I was no nearer to being debt-free.
It became clear that my debts wouldn’t be recouped unless I chose to make it a top priority. Hard experience had taught that if I put it off to buy an entertainment center or a furniture set or what have you, the next stupid car problem would get me (can you see my paranoia?) and I’d remain in an endless treadmill. Freedom would just never happen.
So three years ago, I sat down and made a plan to pay off debt, and I made a lot of financial sacrifices to do it. Spreadsheets were built. Budgets were created. Timelines were calculated.
There are a lot of “normal” adult possessions that I skipped buying. I didn’t regret it for an instant. When Dave Ramsey says to crystallize your goals by the numbers and track your progress, he’s on to something. We like seeing our progress, watching each month’s goals fall.
By God’s grace and a plentitude of Super 1 subway sandwiches (three lunches for seven bucks!), I was mostly able to stick to my budget. Only some expenditures on camping this August and last really got in the way of the timeline. I actually reached this point last January, only to have my Honda CR-V give up the ghost and necessitate a different vehicle (a Hyundai Sante Fe, which thanks to its black color looks more luxurious than it is, but it’s still a sweet ride). So I did have a setback. But I kept at it.
I didn’t do a Dave Ramsey scream, but last week I wrote the last check needed to clear all debt, to anyone, ever.
It felt good.
This is a matter for which God gets credit. I may have been the one working 60 hours a week, but we all know a man labors in vain unless God builds the bank account. He wants people debt-free, owing nobody but him. And it is he who moves things.
Here’s the funny thing…when it comes to salvation, I didn’t have to do any of this exhausting work. It was all done for me, by Jesus, on the cross.
It’s a free gift. Free because that’s what makes God look good. By his definitions.
For if we could budget and track our own moral accomplishments in the race towards absolution, we’d boast of ourselves. God knows this. He therefore makes salvation a gift, one which we receive by faith, one which we can only work to prove its presence, not to earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9).
God is a decent, generous creditor. He offers a marvelous plan by which we can repay our debts. If it seems too good to be true, then you might not understand grace yet.