This past week, a couple of friends who in the past have struggled alongside me financially mentioned in different ways that their income was going up significantly. I was glad for them - they are my friends, and of course I want them to be successful. But I also struggled with feeling a little discouraged because I felt like though we worked hard, we still had to operate on a much tighter budget, and I didn't know how to increase our income right away. I also wondered if was doing something wrong.
1. Count your blessings, name them one by one.
I have four beautiful children (and one on the way ;)) and live in an area where we can afford to purchase a home. We are all in good health. We have built up a great at-home library. We have a massive sunny backyard to garden in with fruit trees about to bloom, running water, electricity and gas, and access to affordable groceries. We have good friends and the freedoms that come with being Americans. We have a great library, great church, access to Internet, a reliable vehicle . . . I could go on, but really, I am not poor at all. And truth be told, I have been even happier in the past when I had much fewer possessions.
2. Count your challenges, and thank God for those too.
Sometimes I think we mistake gifts for the easy parts of life. We think that gifts come when we arrive, when life feels good and nourishing and abundant, when we don't have to worry about anything or struggle. But the truth is, God gives us gifts in the midst of our struggles too. I would hate to think that my whole struggle to pay off debt was one where I thought that life was devoid of blessings in the midst of that journey. What blessings are you missing out on right now because you mistake them for burdens?*
3. Say no to the lies.
I am human, therefore I fail to see the truth all the time. It's easy to succumb to doubt, discouragement, impatience, jealousy and pride. Sometimes when I struggle with these feelings, I have to stop myself and say that I won't believe the lies. Name the lies, the things that you are feeling, and then tell yourself the truth. For example, my lie might be, "My friends and family are all so much further ahead than me. I struggle with my finances, what is wrong with me? We'll never get ahead, etc." The truth could be, "I'm glad they're doing well, and it's just going to take us a little longer. We have our own journey to travel, and I need to focus on ways we can succeed, not on how we can be like others. We'll make progress if we don't give up."
4. Read a book that reminds you what life is really about.
This past week I had to go in for some medical tests that required waiting for several hours. I brought some books with me, but the one that riveted me most was When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It was about his journey of being a neurosurgeon and working toward a life of fulfillment and potential, and then suddenly discovering in his 30's, right as he was about to finish his residency, that he had terminal cancer. Stripped of his image as a confident neurosurgeon, he was now a patient wondering what he should do with the rest of his life, and how much of a life he had left to live. It put a lot of things in perspective for me, and reminded me that money is just a temporary issue.
5. Keep track of your progress, and stop comparing it to others.
Celebrate what you have done with what you have. If you have a tighter income like we do right now, then you can only do so much with it, and if others were in your shoes, they would be facing the same challenges. Remember, it's not what you have, but what you do with what you have. What unique opportunities have you been given and what can you do with them?
6. Even though others might have financial success, you have no idea what other challenges they are facing.
One of my friends who shared her financial improvement also went through a harrowing experience with one of her daughters recently that almost resulted in her daughter losing her life. They found out that her daughter has an auto-immune disease that could come back and possibly even shorten her daughter's life. Even though her financial situation is easier, her life situation is still really quite hard. I have seen this in others' lives as well - a family I used to nanny for was wealthy, but almost lost their infant daughter to liver failure. My in-laws had a very successful career and retirement fund and then watched half of it vanish in the 2008-2009 stock market crash.
I can think of many more examples than this, but the point is, money cannot buy everything, and it will not provide you true security.
7. Recognize the idols in your heart, and repent of them.
I struggle with making financial security an idol instead of a goal. The way I know this is that I often find myself thinking, "If only we were out of debt, everything would be okay." Some things would be better, but would would it provide true security? Shouldn't I be finding that in God instead?*
I also remember talking with a friend once about struggling with feelings of being the "poor ones" in the family and always needing help, and I made a light-handed comment along the lines of, "I'm sure it's just a pride thing, but . . . " and she sat there quietly, listening, and then said, "Actually, it is a pride thing." Ouch. But I needed to hear that.
8. Focus on what you can do right here, right now, just for today.
This isn't all about feelings - at some point, you need to stop focusing on your struggles, pick yourself up, and look around. What is it that you can do, right here, right now, to improve your life? It might be something as unassuming as cleaning up your kitchen, or catching up with laundry. When you have free time, it could be looking into extra ways to generate some side-income. Don't wallow in discouragement - opportunities are out there if you make the time and effort to look for them.
9. Keep going!
Sometimes it is not a matter of doing anything differently, but just getting through the hard feelings and getting back into the game. Staying on a menu plan, staying under budget day-in-and-out for years adds up. I like to keep a spreadsheet that show me over time, month-by-month, how far I will get if I just make a simple payment every month.
What about you? How do you encourage yourself or others in the hard times?
* note: as a Christian, I sometimes write with a perspective that I know everyone may not agree with, but I also want to be honest in the lessons I feel I am learning through my struggles. Hope that makes sense :).