Using Financial Hardship to Teach
by E. R. Sample
Five years ago, if someone had mentioned financial hardship as a teaching tool, budgeting, thriftiness, even economics would have popped into mind. Great lessons, but, for our family, financial hardship is a curriculum that reaches beyond those standard subjects to far weightier things, like our response to the nature and character of God. Unfortunately, this education is costly, but the good news is that you won’t spend a dime.
The Lesson of Contentment
Owning our own business and a commitment to living dept-free create a financial pendulum that mandates a life of trust and dependency. Spurts of bounty, long stretches without work, and months of an empty bank account waiting for late payments have given us, like Paul, the opportunity to “learn to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11 NASB emphasis added).
Contentment is not a defeated, deflated resignation to life’s miseries, nor is it carefree complacency. Contentment is allowing the Lord to define our needs and replace our natural fear and anxiety with gratitude.
I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (NASB).
There is nothing quite like being down to your last roll of toilet paper with no means to purchase more to drive home the full impact of “...if you have food and covering, with these you shall be content.” Unfortunately, bathroom tissue doesn’t fall into either category.
True, it seems far more necessary than designer sneakers, but by whose definition? After all, God has other children in the world living without bathroom luxuries. As a family, we determined to allow God to define His provision. We did not have to wait long. That very day my oldest son came home from work joyfully flourishing what his company was throwing away – rolls and rolls of toilet paper.
Fearlessness and gratitude in difficult circumstances give our children confidence in the nature of God. It doesn’t mean there aren’t discomfort, pressure, and a desire for more, it just means that we are confident and thankful because we are convinced that our Father knows what He is doing, and He is good.
The Lesson of Creativity
Philippians 2:13-15 says, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (NASB). Do all things without grumbling? Unfortunately, living in financial strain falls into the category of “all things.”
Rather than bemoan our circumstances we can find joy in the midst of our trials. Creativity is a great way to take the pity out of “pity party.” Nothing fosters the imagination quite like limitations. The tighter things get, the more opportunities for a unique and interesting adventure.
Knowing that hairspray was definitely not in the “need” category but too vain to go without it, I learned I could make my own styling gel by boiling leftover flax seed. (Don’t ask.) The steam filled the house with a rotting, swampy stench. In the end all I had was a mucous residue that didn’t work well enough to justify its pungency. Certainly, I would have fared far better dealing with my vanity, still it was worth it just to see the astonished, laughing faces of my children.
Don’t worry; you don’t need to start your own home apothecary to be creative. The point is to make the best out of a bad situation. Hunt for occasions to laugh. With the right attitude, these are the life experiences that will bond your family and cement your faith, not the trips to Disneyland.
The Lesson of Generosity
We are never too poor to give. We are not to be generous because we have money; we are to be generous because we have Jesus. What we lack in cash we can give in time, resources, services, even encouragement, kindness and grace. Generosity in the midst of a money shortage is a powerful demonstration that all we have belongs to the Lord; there is no need to hoard.
More than once my children have eyed me askance wondering what I would do when unexpected company arrived at mealtime. They knew what my guests did not; there were scarcely supplies for our own dinner. Remarkably, there was always enough. Always. Our God is the God of “ex nihilo” (out of nothing). If we are willing, He can use our empty pantries, empty pockets, even our empty hearts to provide for others.
There is something profound about giving from our essence rather than our excess. We actually get to share in the difficult experiences of those we seek to bless. There is a humble, compassionate commonality, and we are better able to sympathize and identify with the total fabric of humanity. As we seek to give to others, we can also admire our brethren around the world who still carry their water, dig for their food and continue to trust in a God who says He loves them.
The Lesson of Commitment
Psalm 33:18-19 tells us, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine” (NASB). Two profound truths arise at the tail end of this reference. One, if we are to be kept alive in famine, it suggests that there will be famines to endure. And two, alive does not suggest comfortable.
What a gift it is to have the opportunity to show our children that the Bible does not make false claims or promises. Unlike the bombardment of ridiculous ads that promise a blissful life of fulfillment just from a change in laundry detergent, we can explain that the Bible tells us to expect difficulty.
Ours is not a fair-weather faith. Our children need to know that our relationship with the Lord is not dependent on our circumstances and does not crumble from pain or hardship. We are not spared suffering; we are equipped to go through it. As we walk through discomfort in expectant dependency, we demonstrate how reliable we believe God to be. Our example is a reminder that we are not in this for blessings, we are in this because we know that it is true.
Financial hardship is just that – hardship. It presses our faith and strains our emotions. It also provides the opportunity to witness and teach the faithfulness of God and the reasonableness of trust. It’s like being tossed off the deck of a luxurious cruise ship and hitting the frigid blackness of the ocean. In the midst of the terror, exposure, and desperation, we cling to the knowledge of our God’s identity like a precious log.
But what else are our options? Let go and die? Swim home on our own? Floating in the devastating vastness of the sea on a log is not the easiest, most comfortable way for a family to travel, but you sure get to know the log, and that’s an education we can all use.
Copyright 2009 E. R. Sample, used with permission
Ellen Sample has been homeschooling for sixteen years. She has graduated two children and has two more to go.