By Graham Ormiston
I sensed trouble as the text messages flew in one after another. I had just switched my phone over from do-not-disturb mode after coming out of a two-hour long meeting. The usual micro-thrill of receiving a message was replaced by a growing sense of dread with each consecutive buzz of the phone. Texts from my dad, mum, sisters: ‘Can’t seem to reach you’, ‘Is everything ok?’, ‘Call me back love.’
Then came the voicemails, including one particularly heartbreaking one in which my parents forgot to hang up after leaving a short message. I could hear mum in the background talking to my dad, her voice wobbling with anxiety: ‘Why would he send that? What does it mean?’, to which he replied, equally disturbed, ‘I don't know!’ The voicemail was five minutes long; I deleted it after thirty seconds, and I’m glad I did. I can still hear the terror in their voices. My parents were entertaining their worst fears—that of their only son considering suicide.
A few hours earlier, I had decided uncharacteristically to tell my parents that I loved them—via text (I am British after all). This was not normal. My family know I love them and vice versa, why get all mushy about it and say it? Those six little troublemaking words:
‘I love you mum and dad!’
On the face of it, the message might seem innocuous but context, as they say, is everything. One fact may help you to understand my parents’ reaction: They had recently discovered that I was in a crippling amount of debt.
A series of events had led to me taking ownership of a failing business. My wife and I took on the burden with stiff upper lips and a Churchill-like sense of duty. But the change in us was noticeable immediately. We felt anxious, stressed, harassed. We started working more extended hours, obsessing over projects, but we were stuck. Every time we finished a job another bill would come flying in out of nowhere. Interest was added. The debt increased. The colour began to drain out of my world.
Personal debt can be devastating. It’s like an invisible straitjacket squeezing the life out of you. My parents were right to be concerned, whether or not they knew that almost half of all people in debt have considered suicide. They were worried that someone they loved was being crushed by a burden too significant to carry.
If you’re in debt to the extent that you can’t imagine a way out, I have good news for you. Some people can help, no matter what the situation, both practically and emotionally. You aren’t on your own, though I know it can feel like it. Furthermore I believe that God takes debt very seriously and He cares deeply for those struggling with this awful burden.
Why would I think that? Partly through personal experience. While the financial position I found myself in was very grave, I also had a peace about that situation that I could not readily explain. Not only was I not suicidal, I was in fact optimistic about the future. I found I had hope. Sure, the demands kept coming in and the work was hard. However I knew, deep down, that life does not begin and end with money. There is more.
In ancient times if you found yourself in debt it wasn’t just the threat of bailiffs taking your property to worry about. It was common for people to be forced to sell themselves into slavery if they couldn’t pay their debts off, becoming ‘debt slaves’. In ancient Jewish law they observed a ‘year of Jubilee’ where every fifty years slaves would be freed and debts would be forgiven. In an era where the individual rights of a person were unheard of, this was a religious decree to free individuals from the bondage of debt. Through this law, God was showing how deeply he cares about debt. This was also a future foreshadowing of a bigger narrative that would come hundreds of years later: the forgiveness of all our debts to God by Jesus’ sacrifice.
As for me, I’m seven years down the line and still paying my financial debt off. Shortly after the Great Text Message Fiasco of 2012, I asked my dad for help. He helped to save us by consolidating the debt into one repayment and allowing us to pay him back over time—repayments I’m still making to this day.
The shame of asking my dad—or anyone—for help was genuine. It felt as though I had failed at adulting. But the truth that I am still loved—both by my dad and my father in heaven—has given me hope and peace.
Next Monday is touted as the most depressing day of the year: payday is another week away, we’re fat from overeating, downright resolution-weary, and many of us vastly overspent during the Christmas season in a desperate attempt to meet our crazy nostalgic expectations for yet another year. It might be that you’ve been accumulating debt by overspending for years (which credit card companies love), or that you’ve just had a huge, unexpected bill come through. If you’re in debt today, please do get help but also ask God to speak to you, to provide you with hope, to add colour back into your world. I can’t promise it will be an easy journey, but I’ve found it is paradoxically when we’re at our lowest that we can hear God the best.