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How to find God (and hope) in the student loan crisis

How to find God (and hope) in the student loan crisis

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators participating in a street-theater production wear signs around their neck representing their student debt during a protest against the rising national student debt in Union Square, in New York, April 25, 2012. | Reuters/Andrew Burton

According to the New York Federal Reserve Consumer Credit Panel, Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt. Student loan debt for young adults ages 19-30, in particular, are responsible for roughly $1 trillion of the burden.

Financial debt is hardly a new issue facing people today. For centuries money has consistently earned its place as the leading cause of divorce, anxiety, depression and overall discontent. Our capitalist society often amplifies our stress striving for financial success according to culture.

The aggressive rise of student loan debt has only multiplied collective anxiety around money.

The economy is already reflecting the ramifications, symptomatic of millennials crippled by enormous student loan debt averaging $30,000 per person. Paired with the challenging economy, rising cost of living with no matching increase in wages has lead millennials away from purchasing homes, making investments and even having children.

As someone with more than triple the average student loan debt, I’ve experienced personal distress and anxiety over my financial future. My personal journey of rightening my relationship to money has been entirely reliant on my willingness to surrender it to God.

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It’s no wonder when we look at the Bible, money is the second most-referenced topic after love. When we look onto society today it’s hard to find a subject more consuming. Money remains an enduring snare for anxiety, selfishness and ultimately greed.

God has so kindly written His word to confront this very crisis. Nearly 25% of Jesus’ words in the New Testament deal with financial stewardship. As I continue to seek wisdom from the word I fully recognize the tools it offers to conquer anxiety around money, especially amidst the student loan crisis.

Here are the helpful principles I’ve gathered from scripture to combat financial stress.

1. Everything belongs to God

Job 41:11 states: “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”  The first step in tackling money woes is establishing the Biblical perspective on money. The truth is all things under the sun belong to Him. Every possession we’ve “earned” is a blessing we don’t truly deserve. Our propensity towards anxiety around money largely stems from the power it’s given in our lives. Money represents the ability to build or destroy lives, lighten or deepen burdens, liberate or enslave. However, while money is certainly a powerful catalyst it is far from the true source of our stability both physically and spiritually.

Philippians 4:19 states: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” Money is nothing but a tool intended for us to live out God’s purpose for our lives. The misappropriation of power towards money is digging emotional and spiritual stakes into shakey, shallow ground. The remembrance that God owns all and supplies all rightens our priorities and severs bondage to money. This simple yet profound framework pulls apart the capitalistic idolization of earning and deserving.

When it comes to debt such as student loans it’s critical to remember lenders do not own you. No matter how daunting, messy, staggering the circumstance — God, your true ‘provider,’ remains.  Hebrews 13:5 says: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” When we put our hope in God and not money, we stop looking for it to sustain and fulfill us. Tithing the first 10% of one’s income is intended to remind us of just that — it all belongs to Him.

2. Practicing financial discipline is an act of obedience.

After dismantling the idolization of money we’re left with practical questions as to how to handle it. Again, a perspective shift is required to renew our relationship to money.

I often felt paralyzed when dealing with my personal finances. Between prolonged forbearance, loan deferment and blocking Sallie Mae’s number, it’s tempting to yield to fear.

When we observe scripture it again confronts a cultural framework around financial discipline. We know God created us not to simply consume. He created us to be good stewards of the earth and our resources to bring His kingdom. In other words, we’re responsible for what we’re given.

Discipleship with money is a central element of our faith walk. If we are living for His glory to be fulfilled our relationship with money needs to reflect that. Luke 16:11-12 states: “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

Here we see God turn culture on its head. The wealth and resources God blesses us with are not spoils to squander exclusively to meet our needs. Our finances are our responsibility. It is an opportunity to practice Biblical stewardship.

It took a conversation with a dear friend who lovingly reminded me that getting a hold of my finances was not simply something God wants for my life — it’s a commandment. In order for Christ’s servants to be His hands and feet, we are called to implement tools to flourish our resources.

Even still, God’s commandment does not lack compassion towards fear of detangling money stress.

As someone with multiple student loans, intimidation was responsible for numerous financial missteps. However, God’s position is not to watch you flounder in fear. Anxiety is often the result of imaging the mountain of debt without God’s involvement. He is so intimately woven into every trace of your life and money is no different. Our loving Father wants to be invited into the storm of navigating finances. If we commit ourselves to engaging with money fueled by the charge of the father and grounded by His guidance, intimidation won’t win.

With the focus from this “holy order,” invest time into finding practical tools to handle your finances. Find a budget that works for you, get an accountability partner, take courses online. Equip yourself with practical, helpful tools to manage your money and thus honor God with your resources.

3. Give generously no matter how much you have.

What we do with our money communicates where our priorities lie. As noted in Luke 12:34: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The question begs, where do we shape our priorities? The central way to anchor our perspective lies in generosity. Tithing the first 10% of your income is foundational to God’s purpose for our finances. Tithing alone could remain its own dissertation. Living a generous life extends beyond tithing.

Like many Americans deep into debt, it’s easy to become lost in personal needs. After meeting my physical needs (loans, bills, rent, food, gas) I’m seldom concerned with spending money on anyone outside myself.

A common first resistant response is not having “enough” to give. Even when we apply the truth that God’s the true provider, and inherit disciplines around handling money it’s hard to shake the feeling. The fact is we’re to honor Him with what we have in our hands, no matter how much or little.

As demonstrated in the story of the widower in Mark 12:41-44:

“Many rich people threw in large amounts. “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”

Giving has less to do with wealth than it does heart condition. God’s asking for us to surrender our selfish nature to consider others.

From the outside, generosity can appear to be an unhelpful burden to heap atop our countless money concerns. In reality, generosity is the balm to heal the burdensome ache of financial anxiety. It reminds us of who God is, who we are and why we’re actually here. The beauty of generosity is there aren’t limits to what it looks like. It could be as striking as writing a check to help a friend in dire need or as subtle as buying a cup of coffee for the stressed-out parent at Starbucks. No matter the form it takes, God is calling our hearts to generosity. Ask God to invite you into new forms of generosity. Start a chain reaction of loving service.

The devastation of the student loan crisis in America is a new twist to a centuries-old problem — money. Uncovering the deep well of Biblical financial wisdom will give birth to newfound confidence in the face of fear.

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