Christmas has passed, the decorations have been taken down and life is returning to normal. Yet for many people living in Britain January is a worrying month because the bills for Christmas will soon arrive. Millions of people are entering 2018 with a debt hanging over them because they overspent during the festive period. One advice line estimates that 7.9 million people are likely to fall behind with their finances in January because of credit card debt incurred over Christmas.
Being in debt is oppressive. I remember visiting a man who was in debt. He had been injured in a car accident and had lost his job. The debts had begun to accumulate and he was unable to pay them. The bank had refused to increase his overdraft and the red letters, with their demands and threats, were arriving regularly. He no longer opened letters from the companies to which he owed money. Debt had paralysed him and filled him with fear for the future. He felt very alone and had seriously considered ending his life.
When we are in debt we need to seek help. I was able to come alongside the man and to work out with him ways to begin to address his debts. In time, all his debts were cleared and he was able to move to a new flat. A great burden had been lifted from him and he was able to enjoy life again. Organisations like Christians Against Poverty offer practical help to people overwhelmed by debt enabling them to manage their repayments and, in time, to be debt-free.
When I visited the man I was also able to pray with him and to ask God to help him. God is just and is particularly concerned for the poor and for widows and orphans. He sees the oppression of the poor and vulnerable through immorally high interest rates and he will call such lenders to account. God also provides for us in our need. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is not only for our food but for all our daily needs. God is the One who gives us all good gifts. If you are overwhelmed by debt, ask God to help you. In Psalm 34 the Psalmist says, “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.”
Some news stories are heart breaking. A few weeks ago a man in our town went into the hairdresser’s shop where his estranged wife worked and shot her with a shotgun. She was seriously wounded and has only recently been released from hospital. After shooting his wife the man went to local woods near their home and killed himself. A few days after his mother came out of hospital the couple’s 16 year old son hung himself in the same woods where his father died, and where his ashes had been scattered.
The background to this tragic situation is that the couple had separated and the wife wanted a divorce. The husband was angry and decided to shoot her. As he entered the hairdressers shop he shouted “I love you!” and then shot her. It is not clear whether he decided to kill himself beforehand or made this decision after he had shot his wife. I’m sure it never occurred to him that his actions would lead to the death of their son, who was a sensitive boy and was deeply affected by what happened.
Life can be very difficult. When big problems come it can be hard to see our way past them. Problems in family relationships are especially painful. When we are in the midst of the problem it may seem that life is not worth living. We may even think that everyone would be better off if we were not around, but that is never true. Our lives, especially in the family, are closely intertwined and suicide is devastating for all who are near to us. Those who are left often feel guilty and think they are responsible for what has happened or that they should have done something to help.
So what should we do when we find ourselves in desperation? It’s important to talk to someone we trust and to seek their help. It is also important to pray to God for his help. In Psalm 34 we read, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” A well-known hymn says, “Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness: take it to the Lord in prayer. In his arms he’ll take and shield you, you will find a solace there.” So don’t give up hope. With God there is always a way forward from where we are.