If I had to look back on the past year and give thoughts on my life, it would be this: I'm embarrassed.
Actually, it's more than that.
In the last year, my husband and I have suffered incredible financial setbacks. What began as him leaving a job where his paychecks were bouncing, to starting his own company during an incredibly difficult economy, was topped off with me losing my job—and the only steady income and security we had—nearly a year later.
While nothing will put you to the test like losing more than half your income, nothing will leave you more embarrassed—mortified even—to cut back on everything in your life only to discover that you've been an incredibly wasteful person.
Before our financial strain began, we already determined that we needed to be good stewards of our money—to use it more wisely and pay off any debt we'd accumulated. While we started on that goal—and saw success—we never fully adopted the mantra that less was more. We'd become ungrateful for what we were given. An ungratefulness that was embarrassing to measure as it displayed itself so boldly before us.
The raw truth is that we were spoiled—giving little thought to where our money went or how we might better use it.
Our wastefulness was born slowly over the course of many years and completely unrecognized. We weren't spending extravagantly. We didn't have large toys sitting in our driveway or photos of luxurious vacations dotting our mantle. Our negligence was in small choices made consistently over time. We used our excess income as opportunities to pamper our lives, to treat ourselves. It's amazing how expensive these "small expenses" seemed once we didn't have the excess money to spend on them.
Suddenly, picking up fast food on a busy evening seemed a ridiculous waste of 20 dollars, when that same amount could provide two healthy meals cooked at home. Flipping through 300 channels on our televisions smacked of excess when the bare basics package for 60 dollars less a month would still give us more channels than we'd ever watch.
Unfortunately, it took us crashing to the cold hard bottom of the empty bank account to realize that we needed to refocus our spending.
While we take complete responsibility for our irresponsibility and resulting downfall, we can look back now and see that God also played a role in our situation. I not only believe that this was the best thing that ever happened to us, but also that God orchestrated the entire thing to teach two of his children a much needed lesson.
We'd become so dependent on our financial independence, that our dependence on God seemed less urgent. Our success in the past built a pedestal that we proudly stood on as we looked down at all we'd accomplished instead of upward toward the One who'd given those blessings.
The Outlook from the Bottom
In many ways, we had to repent from our former lifestyle and believe in the new one before we were able to move forward. We had to vow not to repeat our past mistakes, turn in a new direction, and believe with our whole hearts that God would provide what we needed. An action that was extremely difficult for two people who took pride in doing it all ourselves.
Minor setbacks in our finances through the years never pressed us to the point of truly looking at our spending habits. It wasn't until we sank lower and lower down the ladder of success that we reached a point where we were finally able to see that our spending wasn't only hurting ourselves and our family, but also those for whom our excess money could have helped.
Incredibly, we found that though our financial security was gone, our security in our Provider grew more than ever before. We realized that living our lives as mindless spenders was not what God intended for us. And like never before, we realized that the money we were wasting wasn't our own. At the bottom, we had to trust in God completely. Our income no longer covered our needs, yet we were provided for each and every month—and continue to be even though a year later, I'm still unemployed.
Though we hadn't been responsible with what we were given, God was faithful in taking care of us anyway.
As we begin the slow incline back toward stability, we're making wiser, thoughtful choices. We know that any money we have in our possession comes directly from the One who has blessed us with it. And as such, we simply don't want to flagrantly waste another's money. Because truly, that money is not our own. It can be given, and can be quickly taken away.
Living out that reality has been the worst and most blessed time in our lives. We learned that in spite of our mistakes, our misgivings, our wastefulness, God chose to bless us again. For that, we're grateful beyond measure. For that, we're completely aware. And for that, we tell our story in hopes that another might learn to treasure and honor God's blessings as well.
Laura Polk is a wife and mother of three who lives in North Carolina. She is cofounder of SAMIE Sisters, a ministry to encourage tween girls in their faith. www.LauraPolk.com