'Pay thy debt'

When a widow lamented that a creditor would take her sons as bondsmen because she could not pay a debt, Elisha asked what she had in her house. The inquiry, it appears, was to determine what resources she had at hand to pay the debt. When she replied that she had nothing but a pot of oil, Elisha gave specific instructions; as she followed them, the oil was multiplied. Elisha then told her, "Go, sell the oil and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest." (See 2 Kings 4:1-7.)

Paying a debt might not be easy; in fact, it might be one of the most difficult things to do.

Economic conditions are a constant concern. Unemployment figures are high, bankruptcy is filed at alarming rates, homes are foreclosed. Many people are experiencing financial difficulties, mired in debt and tied to interest rates that add to the original debt.

Like the widow of Elisha's day, many today worry about debts. Children no longer are taken in bondage to pay a debt, but debt still holds people in bondage. As did the widow of Elisha's day, so might people today look to their own households to solve financial woes.

Elisha gave simple, practical counsel to the widow. There is no all-encompassing answer to the question regarding what people might do to pay off their debts today since circumstances vary. The moral of the biblical account, however, is universal: individuals are responsible for and should pay their debts. Elisha did not take upon himself the widow's debt, nor did he transfer to another the obligation to pay it. The debt was hers to pay.

Some people are so deep in debt that the selling of belongings would do little to help. While comprehensive solutions to debt problems cannot be offered here, two points of counsel, after the admonition to pay tithing, serve well.

The first is basic and common sense counsel: Decrease spending. This not only helps people get out of debt but also to stay out.

People who are doing financial belt-tightening to decrease their debts are well advised to limit spending to what is essential. What things are essential? Certainly not a television set in nearly every room, VCR machines, DVD players, stacks of music CDs or a computer for every child. Yet, many who are in debt continue to make such purchases. Recreational vehicles — from snowmobiles to large boats to motor homes — are parked at some homes on the brink of foreclosure. And how many cars does a family really need?

There was a time when people paid for purchases with cash from their pockets or wrote checks on adequately funded bank accounts. Today, many who are in debt frequently use credit cards.

The second piece of advice should be obvious: Live within your means.

One of the acceptable reasons for people to go into debt is to buy a home, provided that the obligation doesn't exceed their ability to make mortgage payments. The unwise go deeply into debt as they buy bigger and more extravagant homes, often aiming to provide a separate bedroom for every child and at least one bathroom for every two children, and a guest room. Then they fill their large homes with costly furniture, top-of-the-line appliances, and features and gadgets they can ill afford.

Living within one's means might include eating in restaurants only occasionally rather than daily or regularly. It might include looking for forms of free entertainment, such as events at public libraries or other places in the community. It certainly includes buying only those things that one can afford, including the basics of food, clothing and shelter, as well as some extras.

Those trying to get out of debt can find ways to decrease spending and live within their means. What works for one individual or family might not be practical for another. Remembering Elisha's question which, in essence, directed the widow to look for a solution in her own house, families can evaluate their own situations and find solutions.

Every little bit helps. For example, with planning and creativity, families might find fun and interesting things to do near their homes instead of going on costly vacations far away. A mother said that her family had spent a lot of money on travel, motel rooms and meals when they went on vacation to an out-of-state theme park. Once there, she discovered that all her young daughter wanted to do was ride the carousel, which was similar to one in a park near their home.

Debt exacts a heavy toll, and not just financially. Doctors and medical researchers have reported that people get sick or die because of ailments brought on by the stress of financial worries. Debt and other financial issues are underlying causes of much of the discord in homes.

Many people will testify that few things are more liberating than becoming free of debt. People who feel distressed over their debts would do well to remember Elisha's counsel: "Pay thy debt." And then find ways to do it.

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