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The Virtuous Recession

By January 23, 2009No Comments

Great DepressionSeveral years ago my dad, who has extensive professional experience working with and researching on the stock market, told me the weirdest thing:

Studies have shown that modesty is cyclical in direct correlation to the economy. When the economy is doing well, the modesty of women’s fashion declines. When the economy is doing poorly, modesty arises.

For the longest time I was completely mystified by this. What on earth would the economy have to do with women’s fashion?

Now that our country is facing harder economic times, I’m beginning to understand the dynamics behind such a phenomenon. As more and more people lose their jobs and our financial outlook becomes more uncertain, people are exercising a lot more self-control than they used to. We’re starting to watch where our money goes, we’re cutting back on expenses, and we’re only spending what we make, not more.

By necessity, we are reacquiring the virtues of discipline and self-control. And when these virtues become a part of your mindset, they affect more than just your money–they affect every part of your life and the way you make decisions, including the clothing you wear.

That said, the story of the recession and its correlation to modesty is less about the economy and more about our character. The way we spend our money and the way we dress are both rooted in the same place: our hearts.

Just think about it–one of the main reasons we are in a recession is due to a loss of self-control. A large percentage of Americans began spending more money than they were making, so we created an economy founded on credit and debt. Everything that we had–our possessions and our lavish lifestyles–it was all an illusion. Much of it had been acquired with money that we didn’t actually have.

To treat money that way is to be careless and reckless, but that recklessness was not limited to our finances. We’ve seen it in women’s modesty, and we’ve seen it in our country’s sexuality. Our nation has become defined by a total lack of discipline or temperance.

That is a spiritual problem, not a financial one.

Fortunately, this state of affairs may begin to change in light of our economy. Americans will be forced to think about self-control for the first time in a long while, and hopefully our country will benefit as a result. But what’s disappointing is that it took a recession to get us there. Rather than leading by example, many Christians bought into the extravagance just like every other American. Many of us have been living outside of our means, racking up our credit card bills and accumulating a lot of debt.

Until now we weren’t held accountable for such recklessness, but God uses times like these as a bullhorn into our hearts and minds: God cares about what you do with your money! Not because He’s some scrooge in the sky who doesn’t want you to have any fun, but because what you do with your money is a great indicator of the spiritual state of your heart.

If you are wise with your money and exercise discernment in its use, then you probably exercise discernment in how you spend your time, what movies you see and what internet sites you visit. If you practice self-control with your spending, then you’re probably exercising self-control in your physical relationship your boyfriend, or with your kids when you get angry. If you are generous with your money, then you’re probably generous in patience with your co-workers or your spouse.

Responsible money management is not itself the end. How we spend our money merely highlights our character. It’s only a symptom of one’s heart toward God and others.

So I encourage you to examine your spending habits over the last few years, and then examine how they have changed since the recession. If there is a significant difference, then you need to ask yourself why. The way we treat money should be the same regardless of the economy because it all belongs to God. Just because the economy is doing well does not make it somehow less God’s and more ours to spend extravagantly. We will learn this lesson in the coming years, but the real test is whether or not we remember it.

A recession will force our hand, but what we really need is a change of heart.

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