Cathy Youngblood – March 30, 2020
This week we consider how Adam Hamilton’s book “Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times” addresses our fear of the real and potential financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic for us, our family and friends, and the world we live in.
All around we are seeing pay reductions, positions suspended, and jobs lost. More and more companies and plants announce shutdowns. Retirement funds plummet due to a panicked stock market. People in all socio-economic levels are affected, but those who live paycheck to paycheck are truly desperate.
New York reporter Amanda Hopuch writes, “The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) thinktank estimated a record-setting 3.4 million people filed unemployment claims last week based on an analysis of news reports. Weekly claims have not topped a million since records began in 1967.”
The headlines read “US Economy Could Lose 5M Jobs in COVID-19 Fallout” (PYMTNS.com)
Our Federal Government signs an unprecedented $2.2 Trillion stimulus package to provide relief to Americans affected by the pandemic.
Discussion has begun as to whether this will go down in history as a “Coronavirus Recession” (already deemed worse than the recession of 2008) or a “Coronavirus Depression.”
Wow! I’m sorry to start this off with such a barrage of devastating news, but it only points to the reality of financial insecurity we are all living with right now, and along with that reality comes inevitable fear. As I write this, I am afraid.
IS THERE GUILT IN FEAR?
Next week is Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ suffering and death, which begins with his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he pled with the Father, through sweat like drops of blood, to remove this cup from him. With his divine foreknowledge, he knew that his purpose on earth was to “become sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21), die a violent death and be separated from the Father, and he was afraid of that kind of suffering and loss! Who wouldn’t be?
Let’s remember that Christ, though fully human, was also fully divine and “knew no sin.” This comforts me greatly, because my perfect Savior knows what fear is like, and by his example he shows me that experiencing fear is not a sin; I need not feel guilty about it. Jesus had a normal human brain, and his amygdala was reacting to the knowledge that he was in danger and it wanted to self-preserve; so when my amygdala goes into high gear over the current financial crisis and the potential impact it could have on my life as I’ve known it, the fear I feel is understandable. When God says 100+ times in Scripture, “do not fear,” it is not accompanied by a wagging, shaming finger; rather, it is a word of comfort and a reminder of God’s loving presence. What I hear is, “I know you’re afraid, but I want to remind you that I’ve got this.”
Jesus’ famous prayer in Gethsemane shows us, again by example, how to respond with courage and trust: “Yet not my will but Yours be done.” Releasing our fear to God is the ultimate sign of trusting that God knows the end of the story.
ADAM HAMILTON ON FINANCIAL FEAR
Hamilton points out that there are two human factors that determine whether a family can live within their means to avoid financial distress: DESIRE and DISCIPLINE. Desire can become so strong that it dictates our spending habits: “I want that new car so badly I won’t be happy without it.” Yet when we buy it, the novelty soon wears off and we desire a little bit more (hedonic adaptation). Putting discipline before desire gives us healthy control over our own spending habits, and balances what we buy with what we can afford. Luke 12:15 cautions us: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Though “living within our means” seems reasonable enough, Hamilton suggests “living beneath our means,” where we develop the attitude that “cheap is cool,” shopping at thrift stores is brilliant, little value is placed on “status” objects, and high value is placed on saving, investing and giving. Life is really about relationships, experiences and service – not possessions. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)
Healthy financial fear brings you from a place of over-spending to one of discipline. Hamilton describes a financially stable lifestyle with five basic principles: (1) budget, (2) avoid debt where possible, (3) live beneath your means, (4) give away 10% or more, and (5) save at least 10%.
HOW DOES DO I COPE WITH THE CURRENT FINANCIAL CRISIS?
Adam Hamilton wrote this book in 2018, before the coronavirus scare, so he doesn’t specifically address the financial crisis occurring now. There is no doubt we are in a global crisis – desperate times – and no one will be untouched by financial fear as it progresses.
But his five basic principles will help us as we adjust:
- Budget – Some of us say we budget, but we hold that term very loosely. What would it look like to track our spending to the penny in spending categories, and let the numbers show us how we need to cut back and re-evaluate what is a “need” vs. a “want?”
- Debt – Most of us have mortgages. Many of us have car payments. Some of us have student loans or medical debt. A good financial adviser would suggest we work diligently toward eliminating all of these methodically. Where additional debt is concerned, especially credit card debt, they would urge against it, and encourage doing anything we can to pay it down.
- Live beneath our means – This is counterintuitive, but it is truly a joyful thing to cut back on spending; it will do wonders to bring our priorities back in line and make us grateful for the blessings in our lives. It will give us opportunity to see clearly what our hearts love more, whether money or God (and the Bible reminds us we cannot serve both).
- Give – Logic would tell us that in a time like this, we should hang on tight to what we have, that we don’t have enough to share. But aren’t God’s ways always upside-down to ours? It is in giving that we receive because God honors selflessness and calls us to give and care for the weak, and in doing so, be blessed. We are challenged to show generosity to test God and see if our needs are not met in greater measure than we can ask or imagine.
- Save – The seven years of plenty in Egypt followed by seven years of famine show the principle of saving. Egypt supported itself and the surrounding nations during the famine. It may be difficult to save during this current crisis, but if we have been saving, we have some cushion to ride out the storm and help those in dire need.
To Hamilton’s five principles, I will add one more, TRUST. God’s promises are completely trustworthy:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. ... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. Are you not of more value than they? … I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” Matt. 6:25-29
“And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
May it be said of us that we, like Paul, have learned to be content in whatever circumstances we are, how to get along with humble means, and also how to live in prosperity. May we learn the secret of being filled and going hungry, of having abundance or suffering need. In all things, it is Christ who gives us strength. (adapted from Philippians 4:11-13)