Paying off debt is not glamorous. Let’s get that out of the way right now.
We had to say no to things we really wanted to do because we didn’t have our finances in order yet. We didn’t take a vacation for years because those are expensive and we couldn’t justify spending the money. During this time, we went to Kings Island, a two-hour drive for us, one weekend and spent a week in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Both vacations paid for by my generous parents.
We didn’t have the money to do things like that. (Since we’ve paid off our debt, we have been able to take vacations. The wait was worth it and traveling now, without the guilt of credit cards or spending money we don’t really have, makes traveling even more enjoyable.)
Right after we paid off my car in 2011 (a year and a half early, by the way), I wrecked it. Like totaled it. *SOB* My nice, new-ish car we were going to drive until it died was demolished. And because we were on a mission to be debt-free it made no sense to buy another car and add more money to the debt pile. So we took the cash value of our car, found an older car that fit our budget, and bought it. It was an older, used SUV. It hurt that we had worked so hard to get rid of our car payment and then had to downgrade to an older vehicle because I was looking back at my children instead of paying attention to the road and had rammed right into another car.
It was a blow to my pride and an exercise in humility.
One thing that stayed consistent during our debt-elimination journey was our tithing. I’ve wrestled with how to write about tithing and to do it without bragging. [2018 edit: This post in April 2016 was the first time I addressed or wrote about tithing. I’ve since written more about it, but this was the first time. It was scary then and it’s less scary now, but I know it’s still a touchy subject for a lot of people.] Here’s our tithing story:
Since the week we got married, we have tithed. For us, tithing means giving ten percent of our income back to God to use as He desires. We believe everything we have is His anyway and He’s giving us His resources, but we have to use them wisely. So we tithe as a form of obedience and worship.
I can tell you we have skipped our tithe about a handful of times since we got married in October 2006. I remember them, because they were times I doubted God could take care of us when we had so little in the bank account so I took matters into my own hands. I was scared and didn’t trust the promises He’d made.
But I can also tell you tithing when you have very little changes your world. I can vividly recall times where it physically hurt to put that check in the tithe plate as it passed. There were times I would figure out what our ten percent was for that week and immediately know other ways we could use that money and where we absolutely needed that money. But we did it anyway, especially when it hurt.
I can share with you right now, with tears in my eyes as I type this, that God has NEVER ONCE let us starve or left us. He has taken care of our needs every single time without fail. When we were worried about back-to-school shopping for Ellie to start kindergarten, my parents randomly called and said they’d like to send us $100 for school supplies and clothes. They said they remembered how hard back-to-school time could be and their parents had occasionally helped them get new shoes or clothes for everyone. When I didn’t have enough money for groceries one week and didn’t know where the money was coming from (remember, we were trying so hard to not use credit cards), our mortgage company randomly reviewed our escrow account and sent us a check for $200.
Chris’ overtime would show up at all the right times. An offer for after-school tutoring that would result in extra income would arrive just as I had looked at the budget and felt like we wouldn’t have enough, let alone any extra.
We have tithed faithfully when we felt like we had nothing and God answered with more than we could ever need. I’ve lost count of the ways people have shown up when we needed help and I know, without a doubt, those people were following promptings from the Holy Spirit.
I’ve learned through this process that obedience hurts. And if it doesn’t, you’re probably not doing it right.
It’s funny to come back to this series a few years later and still stand by these truths after all that’s happened in the past year. But here’s what I can add now: if you gave us money, if you sent us an anonymous card with cash, if you mailed us a gift card, if your small group shared their abundance with us, we tithed our ten percent. We worshiped God with your gift and then paid medical bills, bought groceries, or made sure our kids had Christmas gifts. When something showed up at just the right time, we turned right around and gave part of it back. There was no doubt who the gift was from and we wanted to honor that generosity.
I don’t tell you about our faithfulness in tithing because I want to show off. I tell you because God showed off to us repeatedly when I wrote a check with a shaking hand or despair in my belly because I couldn’t figure out how He would make it work this time. I trusted Him when it felt like He was getting our last $100 and I just couldn’t see how He could ask this of us when He knew how little security we really had in the bank. Because you’re supposed to have a rainy-day fund for car problems and unexpected bills and safety and we didn’t have that.
Then I’d hand over the check and He would tell me in small and big ways security isn’t found in my bank account or wallet, but in Him…and then He would take care of us and tell us to do it all over again next week.
Today, after tithing for over eleven years without stopping, I can tell you I don’t think about what if? much anymore when I write the check each week. I don’t imagine what I could spend the money on or fantasize about putting the money into a savings account. I write with joy and adoration. I get excited to give a part–a really small part, actually–of what God has given us back to Him. Sometimes there are tears in my eyes when I write the check, but now it’s from gratefulness and from being overwhelmed by His hand in our lives.
We don’t suddenly have tons of extra money now that we are debt-free. In paying off our debt, I was able to make a job change I had been praying about and asking about for years. But it came with a drastic pay cut I couldn’t have accepted a few years ago. We paid off debt so I could make less money. That sounds backward, but exactly what we needed. I was able to say yes to my dream job of working at home because we had been working for years to be debt-free. I believe wholeheartedly God was answering my prayer long before I knew it by the struggles and goals He was putting in our path.
He also set us up to live with less. The more debt we paid off, the more we realized we could do without. We didn’t need cable. We didn’t need store credit cards (OKAY, MAYBE KOHLS); we didn’t need new cars. And suddenly, nine years after we started the debt-free journey, I can see even now He knew what was coming and how He was setting us up for success. I can’t tell you where we’d be right now if on top of everything that has happened in the past year, we also didn’t have money to pay our bills. If we had been stretched too thin or living outside of our means, I think that would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
That’s what it is for so many families–financial stress and hopelessness–that ruins lives. We were ruined in enough ways I don’t think we could have survived if that one was weighing us down as well.
We have sold clothes, had garage sales, shopped at Goodwill, only filled the car up half way with gas, been humbled again and again with other people’s generosity, asked for things we needed for Christmas and birthdays instead of things we wanted, sold things on Craigslist, and gone without things we thought we “needed” to pay off debt while giving back ten percent to God.
We have never been homeless, never not had food, never paid a bill late. I know that is only due to God’s provisions and His hand in our lives. We asked God to help us stay focused and patient as we tackled over $60,000 in debt and He showed us how to do it. I believe strongly if you’re just starting out on your debt-free journey or you’ve been chipping away at it for years, you should be tithing. It’s an act of obedience and worship and He will bless you in unimaginable ways when you put your trust in Him and not money. It’s scary–I’m not going to pretend like it’s not–but He will be faithful, I promise you.
And so does He.
(If you’re interested, here’s the original post on sacrifices and tithing from April 2016.)
If you’re just joining this series, begin here.