At the time of our marriage Carmel and I were paying our way through school on academic and athletic scholarships and on my $100/wk salary as a local pastor. Most weeks we prayed for gas money, scrounged off our friends, and ate Ramen noodles every day. About once a month we’d go to Earl’s, a causal restaurant, for Wing Wednesday and split a dozen 5-cent wings and drink water. We’d pay for our meal in loose change.
Even though we were poor we managed our money faithfully, gave regularly to our church, and made a point of doing whatever we could to help others in our circle of friends who had even less than we did. We believed, however, that our life was anything but the abundant life Jesus had promised. We knew it was only a matter of time before we became a liability and a drain on both our families, so when we got out of school we earnestly tried to begin a life of financial independence.
We failed at first, racking up $17,000 in credit card debt, $4000 in students loans, and a $20,000 vehicle loan. We were able to afford a modest townhome, but only because our family was gracious enough to provide us with a down payment. About six or seven years into our marriage, my older brother Dwayne, challenged me about our lifestyle and our lack of financial responsibility. Even with extra income, we still weren’t living the way God wanted us to. So we began climbing our way out of debt. Thankfully, with the exception of our mortgage, we are 100% debt-free (and have been since) 2009.
In the process of our financial ups and downs, borrowings and earnings, we have gradually become freer with our money and more able to respond to God’s movement. Now we finally feel like we’re living the way God wants us to. We continue to increase our giving to our church, to various people and charities and causes, and we continue to make shrewd decisions about our purchases and our lifestyle, but by-and-large we feel relieved and thankful that God has lead us out of poverty and into our current lifestyle.
As I’ve considered our financial history, I’ve had to wrestle with some intriguing spiritual questions. Chief among these is: Was God happier when we were poor or is He happier now?
I’ve concluded that God is in fact happier with us and our lives now that we’re in a position of financial security. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that God loves the middle-class more than the indigent. What I am saying is that God wanted something better for us than living hand-to-mouth and he put people, systems, protections, and instruction in place to help us move from “barely getting by” to remarkable freedom. That has been our journey, but we’re usually reluctant to share it with other people because of the wide-range of opinions Christians seem to have about money.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com