Even when we think ourselves financially prepared, situations can arise that overwhelm and find us floundering in the waters of disaster. Hopefully, if you've experienced this or known someone who has, you also saw how friends and family gathered around to help alleviate the crisis. Yes, there are definitely times when we need either to be or receive a helping hand.
But what about those people who are always needy? To most folks, it's much easier to hand them a few bucks and get them out of our hair - until next time - rather than deal with the underlying problem: lack of responsible behavior.
Take, for example, Steven and Trish. Their son Caleb's shaky work history caused the mortgage company to require a substantial down payment. Rather than see their son miss his dream home, Steven and Trish loaned him $25,000.
Daphne is a widow with a worrisome 22-year-old grandson named Allen. "When he asked me to co-sign, I couldn't refuse. I've asked him to be more responsible, but I get a late notice almost every month," she said.
And then there's Bill and Catherine. They're helping their daughter Susan hide her overspending from her husband.
"It's like an addiction," Bill shakes his head. "She comes to us crying, telling us that Ron will never forgive her if he finds out she's run up more debts. We bail her out, and it keeps on happening. We don't know what else to do."
While the names have been changed to protect the guilty, every one of these scenarios involves actual people. And, as Paul Harvey would say, would you like to know "the rest of" their stories?
For the umpteenth time now, Caleb has been "let go" because of a "misunderstanding." He's been unemployed for seven months, and his dream home is now in foreclosure. And he's never returned the first cent of the loan from his parents.
Daphne finally decided to talk to Allen's father, her son Walter. Walter was stunned that his mother had co-signed, especially since he'd strongly advised Allen to try for a cheaper car or save up and pay cash. Allen continues to be delinquent with his payments, and deals with it by avoiding calling or visiting his grandmother.
And here's what's happening in Bill and Catherine's situation: Susan's husband found out about the debts and has filed for divorce. Catherine has been diagnosed with cancer, and, since their savings all went to help Susan, Bill has had to start working a second job to pay what their insurance doesn't cover. They're now considering selling their home and renting an apartment.
Overspending can be an addictive behavior. Would you offer an addict drugs or an alcoholic beverage? No? But would you want to see that person set free from their addiction, even knowing that withdrawal can be a frightening and painful experience?
Mismanagement shows a person has no discipline. Would you feed a box of chocolates to a diabetic? No? But would you help that person regulate his diet and take his insulin, even when this entails giving him injections twice a day?
No damaging behavior should be encouraged. Saying "no" to your habitually borrowing friend or family member may seem painful now - for both of you. But each time you say "no," it will make it easier the next time, and make it harder for them to want to ask you.
Hebrews 12:11 says that "No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
Losing weight requires discipline. Curbing your spending requires discipline. Saying "no" to habitual borrowers also requires discipline. And discipline is what a disciple's life is all about. As disciples of Christ, we are to teach others what the Bible has taught us, and we are never to support - financially or otherwise - behavior that is contrary to the Scriptures.
We should not only refuse to participate or aid in financial irresponsibility, but we should also encourage, and live as examples of, intelligent management.
Our goal should never be to alleviate the momentary need, but to identify and assist in resolving the underlying problem. You may not know how to help someone change their spending habits, but you can point them to God's Word and to church staff and other Christian professionals who are trained to counsel people about their finances.
Before opening our wallets, we should first open our hearts and our minds. Look at the whole picture and decide whether handing out money will truly be helping or if it will be encouraging irresponsible behavior. Tough love includes knowing when it's time to say, "No."
This article was originally published on March 9, 2004.
Judy Woodward Bates is a Christian speaker; author of "The Gospel Truth about Money Management"; and creator of Bargainomics(r), a Bible-based time and money management philosophy. Visit her website at: www.bargainomics.com.