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5 Ways to Take Your Life Back from Holiday Debt

When Dave Stoop and I wrote Take Your Life Back, we discussed the difference between reactive behavior and responsive behavior. The latter is what we’re after: making choices and behaving in a way that’s intentional and consistent with our values and plans for life. Unfortunately, too many of us, because of unhealed wounds from the past, merely react to life. We make decisions and behave based on the circumstances so we can avoid opening up those old wounds.

One of the behaviors that best illustrates these destructive behavior patterns is holiday spending. Each year, thousands upon thousands of people spend themselves into tremendous debt for many of the same reasons that alcoholics drink themselves into a stupor or other addicts abuse their substance of choice. These people have one thing in common: To avoid dealing with a painful wound, they behave themselves into worse situations.

Before you jump headlong into another holiday spending spree that will leave you scrambling to pay off your credit cards in the New Year, take a look at these five simple, but meaningful, first steps toward confronting your pain and taking your life back from this piling up destructive debt.


  1. Set boundaries. Christmas is a time of giving, and many wrap themselves in that noble thought while spending money they simply don’t have. While the Bible teaches us to be generous with what we do have, it never instructs us to give what we don’t. The widow who left her two coins at the altar gave sacrificially from what she had! She didn’t pull out her credit card and put herself into debt by borrowing someone else’s money. Set a generous but firm spending budget for holiday gifts and stick to it. And you don’t have to buy for everybody, either. Plan in advance who you’re going to buy gifts for. More on that in a minute.
  2. Don’t use gifts to make up for lack of time spent. Too many people use Christmas as an attempt to make up for a lack of relationship development over the course of the whole year. They think if they buy a nice, expensive gift, that will compensate for all the times they were “too busy” to attend to the people in their lives. They know these relationships are important (otherwise they wouldn’t be buying a gift) and they haven’t invested the necessary time and attention. Here’s the true truth: Cash and things don’t equal time and love shown. If you’ve accumulated relational debt this year, don’t go into financial debt trying to pay it off. Ask for “loan forgiveness” from those you love and resolve to make “regular payments” to those who are important to you in the coming year.
  3. Don’t try to outspend others. Dave and I talk a lot about comparative living in Take Your Life Back. That’s the tendency we have to measure ourselves by what other people do or think. We see this played out at Christmastime every year when somebody tries to take on the role of Santa. They want their gifts to stand out, to be better either in quality or quantity than everyone else’s. It’s an artificial attempt at earning respect. And it doesn’t work.
  4. Used cash you’ve saved, not your credit cards. If you want to ensure you’ll stick to the boundaries you’ve set, adopting a “cash only” policy for gift buying is a great way to go. As Dave Ramsey points out, credit cards allow us to avoid the “pain” that comes with spending. When we use cash, we immediately feel the effects of our hard-earned money changing hands. While credit cards offer us an “easy out” from the budget, cash gives us a harsh reminder of what we’ve spent and what we have left. Getting away from the budget involves several more steps to retrieve more cash, whereas the credit card can destroy a budget with a single, painless swipe.
  5. Don’t give out of guilt. Another part of the boundary-setting discussed in the first point was establishing a list for giving. How many times have we gotten a gift from someone we didn’t intend on buying for? Naturally, this brings on an initial feeling of “but I didn’t get them anything” guilt. The reactive person will immediately go out and buy something, a cheese and sausage sampler, anything to push down that guilt…and there goes the budget! The responsive person, however, has the strength to overcome those feelings of guilt. Instead of a reactive gift, the responsive person will approach the surprise gift giver and have a conversation that looks something like this:

Alan (responsive recipient): Hey, Bill, I really want to thank you for that gift card you gave me. It was really thoughtful on your part. It means a lot to me that you thought of me this year.

Bill (surprise giver): You’re welcome. I know how much you enjoy good food.

Alan: If I’d known we were exchanging gifts, I’d certainly have planned better. I’m working really hard on personal budgeting this year, so I’m sorry to say I won’t be able to return the favor right away. Besides, I’d much rather do something for you later that’s meaningful to you rather than just run out and buy something so I won’t feel guilty. I hope you understand. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’m really glad to have you as a friend.

Bill: No problem, Alan. I really hope you enjoy it. I’m glad you’re my friend, too.

That conversation only occurs because “Alan” has the strength NOT to act out of guilt. It not only preserves his budget, but affirms a friendship and lets “Bill” know exactly the value he has in Alan’s life. Would a cheese and sausage sampler do that?

Don’t let this Christmas be another year of trying to pay off old “debts” by building up new debt. Get out of that destructive cycle and take your life back. That’s the best present you can give to yourself and to those you love.

If you’d like to find out how to live a more responsive life and break those destructive cycles of reactive living, check out Steve and Dave’s book, Take Your Life Back. By the way, it might make a great Christmas gift, too!

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4 Things You Can Do to Take Your Life Back from Social Media

Last time I wrote about how we can take our lives back from politics. Today, I want to highlight one of the sources of our political addiction, social media. Most people would agree that our public conversations have become increasingly more divisive. Much of that divisiveness is happening on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. These remote, sometimes anonymous channels offer us the ability to say hateful things we’d never dream of saying to someone’s face.

Proverbs 6:16-19 gives us a list of seven things the Lord hates…not frowns upon, but hates! I find it interesting that “a person who stirs up conflict in the community” is listed right alongside “hands that shed innocent blood.” Of course if we read the entirety of the Bible, we know just how important unity is to God’s plan for us. So while shedding innocent blood is a pretty obvious thing to hate, we need to remember that when we use our words to stir up conflict among people, we’re directly opposing God’s ordained plan for His creation. And He hates that!

In the New Testament, Paul tells the Ephesians not to engage in obscenity, coarse jokes, or any kind of “foolish talk.” Instead he says we should be speaking words of Thanksgiving. The preceding verse warns against sexual immorality and greed, and the following verse says that these kinds of people are “idolaters” and have “no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.”

Let the seriousness of those two passages sink in. Playing fast and loose with our words is pretty serious business in God’s eyes!

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter, while designed to enhance our communication and connection with each other, have been turned into storehouses for the seeds of discord. Many spend inordinate amounts of time searching for just the right image or meme that will “stick it” to some person or group they oppose. Sometimes that’s just some good-natured ribbing, but too often it’s hateful and mean-spirited. Instead of increasing our connectedness, these channels are driving a wedge between people. Instead of being a means for building and connecting, they’re being used to tear down and divide.

Now let me be clear: that’s not the fault of Facebook and Twitter…the blame resides with us! We’re the ones misusing and abusing social media. With that in mind, it’s time for each of us to take stock in how we’re using social media. Is it causing you to miss out on God’s grand provision for you? Here’s a little quiz to help you decide:

1. Is social media owning too much of your time? No matter if it’s discussing politics on Facebook or posting recipes on Pinterest, if social media is actually replacing one-on-one human interaction with your family and friends, then you’re spending too much time there.
2. Has it cost you in a relationship? Have you had to “unfriend” or “unfollow” somebody because of something you or they said? Would that now make you less likely to have a healthy in-person interaction? That’s a problem according to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24. This unresolved disconnect that originated on social media could not only be killing a relationship, but inhibiting the effectiveness of prayer for you both.
3. Is it distracting from your ability to connect and share Christ with others? Does what you say about politics, your favorite sports team, an entertainer, or some other event help or harm your credibility with others. And I’m not talking about just those who would agree with you. Think about everybody who would read your words. Now scroll down your posts for the last week. Would somebody who shares a different viewpoint than you do see Christ in what you posted? Would they be more or less likely to listen to you on matters of faith? If they needed help or support, would your posts make you someone they would trust to reach out to for help?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you need to take your life back from social media. It’s negatively impacting your ability to be the person God has called you to be. And while you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube with regard to things you’ve already said, there are some positive steps you can take going forward to make things right.

1. Audit your social media and delete any posts you think might do damage. Notice I didn’t say “offend.” You’re allowed to have an opinion. That’s OK. But if you’re not speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) then it doesn’t matter how right your opinion might be. Delete these posts and cut your losses.
2. Set reasonable time limits on your social media consumption. Social media isn’t “evil” in itself. It’s how we use it. Set some time limits that won’t interfere or infringe on your time being productive with family, friends or at work. Strictly enforce them and reward yourself with something else you like to do when you meet your goals.
3. Stop following or mute sources that feed negativity. These are triggers. They’ll not only drag down your attitude, but likely you’ll get drawn into combat there, destroying any progress you make in goals 1 & 2. Instead, choose to follow sources that will build up your faith and equip you to live well (like New Life).
4. Watch what you say. One of the benefits of social media is, unlike face to face conversations, you do have a greater ability to filter your content. Typing your words requires more thought than just saying them out loud, and before you click “send” you have a chance to review what you want to say. Use this time wisely to double check and make sure you’re saying exactly what you want to say.
On this note, the Rotary Club has a time-honored list of guidelines that should govern our words. I think they’re consistent with what the Bible teaches and pretty wise:
• Is it the truth?
• Is it fair to all concerned?
• Will it build good will and better friendships?
• Is it beneficial to all concerned?

Social media can be a tremendous technological advancement that can truly shrink our world and build bridges that connect us. And yes, the First Amendment gives you the right to speak your mind, but as Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 10:23, just because it’s your right doesn’t mean it’s beneficial to everyone.

We need to let that Christ-like value guide our decisions about how we interact on social media, not just the legalistic standard of the Constitution. If we can do that, we can take our lives back from social media, making ourselves and the platforms better for it.

If you’re ready to take your life back from social media, or any other source of pain that’s keeping you from living the life God wants for you, Take Your Life Back, the latest book from Steve Arterburn and Dr. Dave Stoop can help you get started.