How To Avoid Spiritual Debt

Don’t let your heart write a check that your head can’t cash.

I’ve been thinking a bit about my graduation advice (What Would You Tell A Graduate?).

  • Do what’s right.
  • Don’t make choices based on fear.
  • Be gentle with yourself.

I’m wondering why I chose those particular bits of wisdom. I think it involves something analogous to debt. I don’t think of myself as an especially disciplined person, but I do have one good habit.

Somewhere along the road I learned to avoid the lure of consumer debt.

“Buy now—pay later” just never made much sense to me. That surely doesn’t mean I live a life of material deprivation, because like most of us I still have too much stuff. I’ve simply managed to avoid buying stuff I can’t pay for.

I wish I could make a similar claim about debts in the really important aspects of my life. My balance sheet is littered with emotional and spiritual debt.

Emotional/spiritual debt operates on the same illusion as the consumer variety. I sacrifice long-term principles for perceived immediate gain. I convince myself that present gratification justifies potential future sacrifice, usually by minimizing or ignoring the overall payments that continue long after temporary excitement recedes.

Is this analogy making sense? Can you see places where you’re still “paying the bill” in an emotional/spiritual sense for a choice that involved a lot more shine than substance?

I’m thinking of a few common examples—not that I’ve ever done any of these, of course.

Gossip. You know, that excited tingle of being an insider, sharing the imaginary camaraderie that seems to justify betraying a confidence.

Little white lies. It doesn’t have to be a real lie—maybe it’s just telling the convenient portion of the truth, or withholding uncomfortable material by rationalizing that “it’s for the good of” the other person.

Passion. Have you ever done something with the thought “I don’t care what happens”? It might be overwhelming love or irresistible anger, but that intense, compelling feeling obscures any rational consideration of future consequences. In the immortal words of Mr. Miagi in the movie The Karate Kid: “Never trade principle for passion. Even if you win, you lose.”

I think you get the point.

Any time we succumb to the allure of immediate satisfaction at the expense of ignoring deeply-held beliefs, we sign an emotional/spiritual promissory note. The bills will arrive, along with interest and fees that dwarf those of the most predatory financial institution.

The bills continue, day after day, long after the short-term rewards disappear. We pay dearly—in tarnished relationships, lost trust and integrity, guilt, and regret—for junk that simply wasn’t worth the price.

That’s one of many reasons I’m thankful for Jesus’ message. He paid my bill. If I accept His gift of forgiveness, I can shred those past-due spiritual invoices. He paid the principle, the interest, and the punitive fees. Because of His sacrifice, grace wiped my slate clean.

I still face the worldly consequences of my short-sighted choices–those don’t disappear. But I can claim His promise of a new beginning and go forward in freedom.

Has your heart ever written a check that your head didn’t want to cash?

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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site

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