Negotiating a Personal Bailout Plan

Your true assets are those that help you grow rich toward God

Written By Phyllis Strupp

Saving money in a piggy bankRecently my mother told me a story about her past that shocked me. She was the last of eight children, born to a farm family in 1929 in central Pennsylvania, and when she was five years old, things hit rock bottom—the family literally had no food or money. Her father, a sharecropper, was too proud to ask anyone for help, so her mother took her and her sister by the hand and walked to town. Upon entering a government office, her mother said, “I have eight hungry children and we have no food.” The next day, a huge truck pulled up to their house and unloaded a great bounty of supplies that saw them through.

I knew that my mother’s family had it tough in the Great Depression— it was the hitting bottom and asking for help part of the story that was so surprising to me—as well as the compassionate, immediate response from the government.

My mother’s parents never seemed like people who needed “handouts.” They lived  long, productive lives, and when they died at 90 with their boots on, they had their own farm of more than 100 acres, a comfortable nest egg in the bank, joyful hearts and no cognitive disorders or nursing home stays. From the Great Depression until the 1980s, they rolled with the punches, including the loss of a 12-year-old son.

What enabled them to make it through the 1930s until better times arrived is a spiritual quality: resilience. Resilience brings adaptive thoughts from the mind the way water brings out new roots from a plant. Resilience fosters the best in a marriage or partnership—when one person runs out of ideas, the other comes up with what’s needed.

Resilience is the backbone of hope.

The economic climate of today is considered to be the worst in decades, comparable to the 1930s. Assets from home values to mutual funds to retirement accounts have withered or disappeared. Incomes and jobs are unstable while the government talks about spending trillions of dollars to shore things up. And if it isn’t enough to read about the hard times here at home, we can easily learn from the press and the internet how badly things are going in other countries.

Regardless of when we're in trouble, either the 1930s or today, pride and anxiety paralyze people from seeking help and opportunities. Resilience arises from a very simple spiritual belief: there is something good at work in the universe that is larger than me. It is the power of goodness, the power of love, the power of hope, the power of faith, the power of God.

Resilience and adaptation are the hallmark of the human species—especially in tough times. From droughts in Africa to the ice ages in Europe to the Great Depression, our ancestors have been good at using imagination, logic, and collaboration to act wisely in the face of impending doom.

We can do this today if we work together to overcome anxiety with resilience by focusing on  goodness and hope. One means of doing that is by re-examining our priorities. Recently a man I know did just that and fired his job.

In his late 40s, Jim (not his real name) is a popular, ready-to-help guy who attends my church. At first, people thought he had been fired and flooded him with the usual “Oh how terrible” emails. But that’s not at all what had happened.

Jim gave us the inside scoop. As the economy soured last fall, the senior management of the publicly traded restaurant company where he worked decided that more “transparency” was needed. All the managers at Jim’s level had to start providing a weekly “this is what I’ve done” update—an edict that in fact began to erode the company’s existing culture of teamwork, as people now competed to claim credit for every task accomplished. After a few weeks, Jim realized that he just couldn’t work this way.

And something else weighed on his mind. His parents and other family members lived far away in the state where he'd grown up. He regretted that his young children were not growing up the way he had, with extended family close at hand. Whenever he and his wife wanted to have a date night, just walking out the door cost at least $70 for a babysitter.

Jim prayed and pondered on all this and agreed with his wife that the best option was to move back home, even though it was a bad time to quit his job and sell their house. He wondered how this could be done in a way that wouldn’t derail his family’s finances.

Finally it dawned on him that for many years he had negotiated the best deals for hundreds of things he didn’t even care about—cartons of oil and sacks of potatoes that someone else was going to cook with. Now it was time to return to the negotiating table, for something that really mattered to him—his family.

This time, it was  personal.

So Jim went to his boss, told him about his plans, and asked him if there was a way to do this without bankrupting his family. The executive agreed to a decent severance package and a nine-month part-time consulting agreement as he looked for other work. He already has some leads for a new job close to extended family, where the cost of living is 30 percent less .

Despite the uncertainties that lie ahead, Jim is excited about the future. And why shouldn’t he be? He successfully negotiated a bailout plan from meaningless work to avert the collapse of his own health and his relationships with those he loves.

Amidst the challenges of his situation, Jim’s faith and self-assurance helped him learn a lesson at a much younger age than most of us do: if you don’t become the boss of your money, you will end up becoming your money’s employee.

Just like the Gospel says.

Do financial concerns weigh too heavily on your mind and strangle your resilience and ability to adapt? If so, the current economy offers a rich opportunity to turn money into your employee, not your boss—just like Jim did.

My professional experience with a wide variety of people over the past twenty years has shown me that money has a way of enslaving people and harming mind-body-spirit health and well-being. In all that time I have met only a few people who figured out how to take charge the way Jim did—where their money works for them and enhances their enjoyment of life and their relationships.

For many years, I wondered why it is so easy for even the smartest people to let themselves be bossed around by money. Eventually both science and scripture helped me better understand why this happens—and what to do about it.

When it comes to money, evolution has produced in the human species a very strong gas pedal called “emotions” and a very weak brake pedal called “rationality.” Scientific findings indicate that the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, has been evolving in mammals for 225 million years. This small but powerful collection of neurons predisposes all social mammals (especially us!) to explore and exploit opportunities to acquire more resources for ourselves and our familial herd.

What’s amazing is how well the Bible anticipates these scientific findings about evolution and the limbic system, particularly on the topic of money. After such a big dose of financial education and experience, it was quite a shock to learn that the Gospel has the best remedies about how to keep the upper hand in making money your servant rather than your master.

If you are in the market for a personal bailout plan, consider making the tried-and-true wisdom of the Gospel the antidote to your innate emotional attachment to money. Here are four easy steps to get started:

1. Know yourself.

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
—Luke 16:13

Know who you are, and how you are tempted. If you report to God on money matters, you will be more able to resist temptation and learn to bring balance to your financial affairs.

If you are going to be the boss of your money, you need to maintain a daily spiritual discipline to train your mind to check in with God, and to see how God is at work within you and around you. Yes, you need a discipline. Spiritual awareness (especially about money!) will not come to you instinctively at this particular point in the evolution of our species.

The two main temptations with money are to focus too much attention on either saving or spending.  Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens's A Christmas Carol is asset-minded, joyless, and too focused on saving, while the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) is debt-minded, profligate, and too focused on spending.

What has your pattern been? What are the “money messages” from your family and childhood experiences that linger in the back of your mind and continue to exert unconscious influence on your behavior? Is there someone you have known who has served as a good model in balancing spending and saving? Awareness about yourself and how you view money is the first step to realigning your priorities.

2. Assess your relationships.

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
—Luke 16:9

You have the power to help or harm people through your use of money. How have you done so far—beginning with yourself? That is the most important relationship to assess first. If you have brought harm to your own mental, physical, or spiritual health by working too hard or worrying too much about money, you need to bail yourself out from such self-destructive behavior.

Then there are the people around you—family, friends, co-workers, and others. Does your use of money tend to build goodwill or tension, anxiety, and negative feelings in these relationships? And how about the natural world—do you use money to be a friend or an enemy to life on Earth?

You have heard it said that “Time is money.” It’s not true! Time is life. You can use some of your life to generate money, but if you use too much of your life for that end, you will be deeply disappointed.

Take out a $20 bill and give it a good long look. It can’t sing, it can’t dance, it can’t cuddle you at night, it can’t make someone smile or feed the poor—without you. You are the one who brings life to money, not the other way around!

Everyone makes mistakes with money, so don’t feel bad about that. Acknowledge the truth, experience grace and forgiveness, and move on with greater wisdom.

Jesus says that you can use worldly wealth to make friends for yourself forever. Turn the worldly wealth of time and money into the permanent wealth of kindness and friendship—and then you can take it with you!

3. Honor your money.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fishes and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people.”
—Mark 6:41

Our innate emotional attachment makes us yearn for MORE MONEY every day, even when times are good—but the yearning gets even stronger in times like these. Your personal finances can seem like the loaves and fishes story—how can you feed so many hungry bills with so few dollars of income?

Jesus shows us that gratitude is the right attitude to bring to situations that appear hopeless. Even the positive psychology movement has confirmed this—gratitude has a powerful, beneficial effect on mental and physical health.

Every day, give thanks for whatever it is you do have—even your debts can provide an opening through which you can relinquish your focus on money. Whatever it is that caused you to go into debt, ask God to help you learn from it. Keep a gratitude journal to release yourself from worrying about things that have been done and cannot be changed. Count up what you have and what you owe, give thanks, and commit yourself to good, life-affirming things. Every dollar of income and expense, asset and debt is a blessing to you that can teach you how to grow rich toward God.

Then consider your situation clearly, without anxiety and fear clouding your judgment. Do you need help with money or building new marketable skills? If so, to whom and where can you turn for help? And if you don’t need help, stop worrying. Anxiety is adaptive in focusing attention on challenges and finding solutions. It is maladaptive and corrosive to health as a chronic state of mind that doesn’t lead to adaptive actions.  

4. Make a plan to grow rich toward God.

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
—Luke 12:21

For anyone who is wondering whether it is possible to have both spiritual wealth and a large net worth, Luke 12:21 is the most important line in the Gospel. In this passage, Jesus points out that when it comes to financial wealth, the name of the game is to grow “rich toward God.” It’s OK to have money—if it helps you grow rich toward God.

So how do you grow rich toward God?

It’s easy—just remember the color green. Green is the color of money and the color of life. God is the author of life. Use money to affirm and sustain your own life, the lives of other people, and all the living species that share the Earth. Draw boundaries on your saving and spending patterns with this question: How much money is enough for any given purpose? Compulsive behavior in either saving or spending prevents you from growing rich toward God.

Compassion, logic, gratitude, and wisdom—bring these to your financial affairs, and you will feel yourself growing rich toward God deep in your soul. Resilience, hope, and adaptive behavior will be the fruits of your labor.   

Consider the examples of my grandparents and Jim.  It is possible to capitalize on the current economic environment if you learn from the Gospel, pray for guidance, stop worrying, assess your situation logically, and adapt. Ask for help if you need it. Find something better than money for emotional attachment. Rather than dwelling on the lack of money, reflect on what else is missing from your life. Then use those insights to negotiate with yourself a bailout plan that focuses on growing rich toward God in new ways that excite your soul and relationships, and help you lead a long, healthy, productive life.

Why spend your money on what is not bread,
And your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
And your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
—Isaiah 55:2

Copyright ©2009 Phyllis Strupp