As a single mum, I think about money a lot. I mean, I have to, but it is also habit forming. Let me explain. I have to think about money every day, several times a day. What can we afford, what bills are hitting at what point in the month, what do we need to cut this month, what do I need to move and twist and delay. Everything is so finely balanced that it’s like a taught elastic band – which means it can snap at any moment. That bill you forgot. That new bit of school uniform you need. Parking and tolls for work. The vacuum cleaner carks it. Suddenly the wheels fall off the budget and your brain is in overdrive to solve the impossible money riddles.
Most months are like this. But even in a month where things seem to be going ok, I find myself thinking about it obsessively. “By this point in the month I should have this many dollars.” and “If I put off this then I could save a little for next month when that bill is coming.” I’ve learned a behaviour. I’ve developed thinking about money as a habit. I think about it all the time. My brain has become trained to think about a thousand scenarios and consequences simultaneously so I can make decisions about what to spend and when.
That’s not so bad, you might think. I mean, budgeting is good, right? Maybe not. And when there’s no financial backup, I have to think about it a lot – it would be careless of me if I didn’t. But….BUT….when it becomes a habit for its own sake it’s a bad thing.
I was challenged and rebuked in the book of Proverbs. “If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search of it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:3-5).
The first bit is easy. We can all pray for wisdom, right? As good Christians we pray for this all the time. But what about the second bit? It is to my shame that I can honestly say I have never sought wisdom the way I do money. I have never planned and plotted how to get wisdom the way I’ve planned and plotted to make my money stretch. I have never given the search for wisdom the kind of mental real estate that I give to budgeting.
Now, one thing I do know is reliance on God for what I have. When I had nothing, God provided. He provided what we needed in some very surprising ways (that’s how I knew it was from him!). It very much changed my view on his gracious provision. But now I have it, I spend an inordinate amount of time planning what to do with it and how to make it stretch.
On one hand, I’m content that I am stewarding his provision, knowing it is not mine. On the other hand, I’m ashamed that it is still an obsessive thought pattern that puts my ability to manage things, ahead of thinking on him and seeking the knowledge of him.
It’s a useful corrective. I am still working on this. I need to manage my budget, but work to break the habit of thinking about it all the time. I need to re-direct that time. I need to plan for, and practice, diverting my thoughts to seeking God’s wisdom when I find myself obsessing over money without cause. Like a trip wire to stop a repetitive and unproductive thought pattern.
I need Jesus to do this. The first thing to do is write down the issue I am wrangling with, this helps me to solidify things. It takes it out of my brain and puts it in black and white on the page. Then I need visual cues in areas where I usually find myself slipping into these habits. For me, that’s in my bed as I lie there mulling over things. So, I have a postcard with a “circuit breaker” stuck next to my bed:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9). I can look at this and take a moment just long enough to stop my brain in its tracks and re-direct it.
I’ll need to keep working on it, but it’s a start.