I'm honored to have Caryn Rivadeneira here today to talk about her newly released book, Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God's Abundance. I'll be hosting a giveaway of Caryn's book on my Facebook page if you'd like a chance to read it for free. By way of introduction, I was hesitant to pick up this book at first because my family has not experienced financial desperation. Thankfully, I was laid up in bed with a stomach bug and read it cover to cover in a day or so. As soon as I read it, I wanted to share it with you all because Caryn's honest thoughts, questions, and stories apply to all of us who have felt "broke" at some point during our lives. Here are my questions for Caryn. Feel free to add your own in the comments section of this post:
Fairly early on in the book, I realized I was reading not so much about financial ruin as about personal brokenness, something to which we can all relate. Can you talk a little bit about the circumstances that prompted writing this book, being "broke" in more than one way?
Right. I joke that Broke is a book about money that's not about money. This is not a book just for people in "financial ruin," as you say. It's for anyone who's felt battered or broke by life (by God?), who's left reeling, wondering, wrestling by their brokenness. It's a book for those of us who feel broke apart—or even broke up—with God.
I learned this lesson through a hard, long walk through financial desperation. But any old desperation has the power to break us. And God uses any old desperation to "meet us where we are."
One question you wrestle with throughout this book is God's role in your financial crisis. Looking back on it now, what role do you think God played?
While I don't believe God zapped us with financial desperation, per se, he allowed it, for sure. Believing God allowed us to go broke and that he "ignored" or said "no" to the many times I asked for new or better jobs or for big hunks of money to come flying our way means believing he was saying "yes" to other prayers.
For instance, in Broke, I write about discussing with my friends what "give us this day our daily bread" meant. I asked God to help me understand this and to help me learn to live "daily bread-ily."
So I don't believe God was being punitive and cursing us with a time of relative poverty. I really believe God blessed us with this. To be desperate, to have only hope to cling to is both terrifying and dazzling at once.
To be broke somehow and find God good in all that? Not to sound like a sadist, but, I wish it on everyone. A dark but wonderful benediction.
You talk about shifting from a posture of begging God to questioning God. What prompted the change? What happened in you with this change?
The silence from God changed it.
But it took a while: a long time of getting nada from God. The more I asked for financial help, new jobs, whatever, and the more time that passed without "answers," the more I wondered if God cared at all. Or if he were even real. Then it dawned on me that maybe God wasn't the problem. Maybe I was.
So I changed my prayers from "help!" to "why?" and the door I'd been pounding on creaked open. I entered God's mystery. And I love mysteries! I drew closer to him, began to explore his nature, began to notice "clues" of his presence, of his mercies in my life. And they were everywhere.
It's not that I "solved" all the mysteries in my life when I asked why, but I got some good leads. And certainly some great times with God. In fact, I write that "the best answers lead to more questions." And I believe that. God set mystery and intrigue in this world because God wants to be explored. God wants us to ask why and how and to peek behind the corners and snoop around a bit, press on walls and when a secret door opens, go through it.
You describe an experience of creating the ashes for your church's Ash Wednesday service by burning pieces of paper with sins you and your family recorded. What role did sin play in your financial situation or in your brokenness more generally? How did confession help you heal?
For the longest time I maintained we were victims of circumstance: a terrible global economy, a depressed housing market, no maternity insurance for two of our babies, and so on. And in many ways, that's true. The biggest issues surrounding our financial desperation were "beyond our control."
But that's the easy answer. Truth is: my husband wanted to shutter his business and look for different work long before the worst hit us. And I did not support him in that. My own weird pride in what he did got in the way of that.
And then during our financial crunch I was not as thrifty as I could've or should've been. It took a long time for the reality of the situation to sink in.
Confessing these sins took me out of victim mode, helped open my eyes to some lessons I needed to learn. Any time we have an opportunity to go before God, admit our ick and experience the grace he offers, it's magic. Or, something like that.
I loved the way you talked about moving from a sensuous experience of Jesus to a faith that is not based solely in experience. What do you think it takes for us to move from trusting God by sight to trusting God by faith?
Short answer: by remembering and choosing.
Long answer: I'm a thinker, not a feeler. Life happens in my mind. Inside my mind is my happy place in stressful times, my place of solitude in chaos.
However, my faith has always been sensuous. I believe in God because I felt God, because I heard God, because I saw him, tasted him, smelled him.
Truth told: left to my own thinky nature, without ever experiencing God, I wouldn't believe.
And yet, an experiential faith is a pretty weak one. To only believe when we can feel is not much of a belief, which I discovered in spades when I could no longer sense God—when I felt broke off from him—during our financial desperation.
Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God." It's a command. I still don't do well with being still, but the story of Hagar alone in the wilderness with her boy helped me with the "know" bit. It's a choice. Hagar had to believe she wasn't just hearing voices. And she had to believe that God would be faithful as she walked a hard road.
Many times God will feel far away. We won't hear his voice. Our skin will not shiver with his presence. But when we remember his past faithfulness, when we remember his promises, we can make Hagar's choice: to believe.
Caryn Rivadeneira is a writer and speaker and serves on the worship staff at her church. She's the author of five books and a regular contributor to CT's Her.meneutics. Caryn lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three kids and rescued pit bull. Visit Caryn at carynrivadeneira.com