Three times in the same week! I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. Bankruptcies keep piling up. On three separate occasions in the past week, bankruptcies became front of mind. Not financial bankruptcies but bankruptcies of hope. Real life situations where the hope reserves ran out and there was no FHIC (Federal Hope Insurance Commission) waiting to make good on the overdrafted account. Real life situations where a good person became confused into thinking that money really does make the world go around.
At lunch on Monday, a friend, David, shared that he was headed out of town for a cousin's funeral. The cousin had recently lost his job and primary source of income. As a result, he had lost custody of the foster children he and his wife were caring for. A few days later, the wife found the man in the garage, with the car running, in an apparent suicide. A permanent solution to a temporary problem. A bankruptcy of hope.
Early Wednesday morning, Freddie Mac's acting chief financial officer, David Kellerman, apparently ended his own life by hanging himself on an exercise machine in his basement in suburban Washington, D.C. As acting CFO, Kellerman surely found himself in a pressure cooker situation, managing a staff of about 500 and being ultimately responsible for the company's financial controls and reporting. Kellerman, 41, had been with Freddie Mac for over 16 years, and left behind a wife and young daughter. A bankruptcy of hope.
Finally, I learned of a friend, Keith, who had secured a second mortgage on his home to maintain the family's lifestyle in a struggling economy and a challenging business situation. The added debt only made matters worse, as did the fact that he failed to share the family's worsening predicament with his wife. On Friday, he succumbed to the pressure and walked out. He packed a few things, dropped the keys on the kitchen counter, and left the family with a note that he was headed to Alaska and would not be back. Bankruptcy of hope.
How do you get to a situation in your own mind where the BEST solution is suicide or abandoning the family altogether? Again, these are permanent solutions to temporary problems. And poor solutions at that.
How do you prevent filing for a bankruptcy of hope? How do you keep your spirits strong even when the stock market tanks or your business collapses? My years as a pastor, and my own life experiences, have taught me three things to do to prevent ever arriving at a moment that dark.
First, find your purpose in life. Most Americans define themselves by what they have or what they do. That is dangerous territory to inhabit. Your life is not defined by what you own, possess, or have. Nor is your life best defined by what you do for a living, whether lawyer, athlete, or auto mechanic.
A part of you craves meaning and purpose. Listen to that voice within your soul. Tune out the voices around you that insist you buy more, consume more, borrow more, and own more. The more you possess, the more you will worry about it. The more time you will invest in caring for your stuff, and the more energy you will spend in insuring it and maintaining it. Your life consists of far more than the possessions you pile up. Simplicity is your friend not your enemy.
Instead of finding stuff, find your purpose. The reason for your existence. Whether to serve others, to care for children, to alleviate suffering, or to generate wealthy in order to be a generous person, your life has some unique purpose that only you can fulfill. We clearly hunger to know that. Why else would Rick Warren's simple book, The Purpose-Driven Life, have sold more than 30MM copies?
By finding your purpose and beginning to live it out, you will gently steer your life away from material measures and into meaningful measures. You will ground your life in something that matters and lasts. Something that ultimately has meaning, and something that is deeper and richer than any economy, good or bad, can affect.
Second, invest in people rather than information. Relationships and community form the backbone of your life. Any study will tell you that having a network of friends improves the quality of your life and likely extends the length of your existence. Surround yourself with healthy friends and invest yourself in the community around you.
Your greatest enemy in a challenging time is the barrage of information that hits you at every turn. News outlets incessantly flood your senses. Pessimism is contagious and lethal. Turn off the news, put down the paper, end the continuous updates on your Blackberry. Replace the constant flow of bad news and despair with real-life interaction with other human beings. In particular, invest yourself in the people you care most about. By substituting relationships for information you will deepen the roots of your own life and increase your own satisfaction with existence. Your life will develop meaning and real hope instead of being based on the vicissitudes of the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the latest release from the Department of Homeland Security. That meaning and hope will stabilize you when tough times come.
Finally, when you need help, get it. Even a life with purpose, and a life rooted in a sense of belonging, family and community, will encounter occasional down moments and life challenges. Spouses will die, plans will fail, and other humans will hurt you. At those moments, draw on the resources around you. There simply are too many people nearby for you not to take advantage of the help they desire to provide. Gifted counselors, caring friends, mental health professionals, hopeful pastors. In every community, at least some of these persons are available to you. More importantly, they WANT to help you. Let them.
Bankruptcies of hope can be prevented. A recession simply reminds you to dig the well before you get thirsty.