This morning I led our staff devotion time and I shared a very personal story about debt. I’ve shared this story maybe only 2 or 3 times, though I have let others use it in financial counseling situations. At the time that it was going on, I felt extremely ashamed and kept it a secret from my friends. But now I am happy to share it if it helps someone understand the crushing weight of being in debt. Anyway, the reason I shared this particular story this morning was because I was talking about..love.

Perhaps I don’t highlight this part of the story enough, but the person who recommended the debt consolidation service to me, which helped me get control of my debt, changed my life merely by being kind. When I tell my story, I usually focus on the stress of receiving (and avoiding) phone calls from debt collectors. So stressful! They are not nice people. I mean, I know they have to do their job and all, but it’s very clear that they usually look at people like me as “losers” and “deadbeats.” I can understand it. From their little cubicle where they work every day to bring home a paycheck, it seems very simple: if you use a credit card, you have to pay the bill. If these people have never experienced debt themselves, it’s easy for them to think that a lack of payment comes from a lack of willingness to pay. To them, we are just people who are trying to get something (or a lot of things) for free. And that just is not fair; everything has a price.

I was not shocked by this attitude when I was met with it. Defensive and embarrassed, but not shocked. It’s extremely difficult to think outside our personal experience, and it’s very easy to apply our own situation to everyone. I think this is a common way of thinking for most of the world, and it’s not limited to this particular situation. That whole “walk a mile in my shoes” thing? Way easier said than done. It takes time and effort to try to understand where someone is coming from when their situation is so different from our own.

These people who are on the phone all day making the same kind of calls over and over again? I bet they’re tired. I bet they’re disheartened. I bet they’re cynical. I would be. I’m sure I would find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude all day every day, to be kind and understanding with every person that says they can’t pay what they owe. It’s so much easier to put everyone in the same box, the same mold. After all, whether a person answers with tears or with threats, isn’t everyone essentially saying the same thing?

To be fair, I was definitely saying the same thing as everyone else. I was avoiding the phone calls, making minimum payments, making excuses. In no way did I stand out from the crowd. There was no way for anyone to know that I was losing sleep or that I was paralyzed with fear. I had no idea how to get help because I was too embarrassed to ask for it. What made all the difference was the way that one woman on the other end of the phone chose to treat me. I made the phone call expecting it to go like all the others: get scolded for making a late payment, be sternly advised to pay more, and be told thank you in a manner that suggested I didn’t deserve to be thanked. But instead, this call changed the course of my life. This woman told me gently (but very plainly) that, according to my payment history, I was never going to pay off this debt without help. Then she offered to connect me with a debt consolidation service. I was so stunned by her effort to help me that I began to cry. I tried to tell her through the tears how grateful I was and how she was the first person to help my by suggesting this, but she just waved it off. The whole call was over in less than 5 minutes.

I don’t know anything about this woman. I don’t even remember her name. Maybe she gave everyone this same information. All I know is that it was this one simple act of kindness that led me to get control of, and eventually pay off, my crushing financial debt. My entire life was changed (for the better) by just a few kind words. She chose to treat me differently not because she knew me and knew what I needed, but because she chose love. It’s so easy to judge others, to compare them to ourselves. I do this every day! It is a constant challenge to remember that love starts with ourselves. If we love others the way God loves us, it can change someone’s life forever.

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