Father Mark, Reflections

Different Kinds of Debt

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8.

Debt is a way of life in our country, often too much so. I have always liked it when I have no debt as there’s an invisible collar of weight that falls off my neck and shoulders. Being indebted metaphorically reminds me of the Zoninus collars used in Roman times and cumbersome wood collars which would have been heavy to wear and must have been hard on the body. For me, indebtedness is a form of slavery in that part of us is owned by to whatever or whomever we are in debt. I find it ironic that we in a sense “freely” choose to enslave ourselves when we “sign on the dotted line.” Of course, today, just go online and in a manner of a few minutes, you can click part of your life away with a “quick” loan that doesn’t seem so quick because years are spent paying it off. We are more free to move and live without debt. Of course there are the times when debt can be part of a long range plan to initiate a preferred stable outcome. At the same time it is easy to rationalize taking on more debt due to a potential impulsive choice.

Zoninus collar, used in Roman times

St. Paul speaks of another type of debt when he says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” I often ponder what Paul saw going on around him that moved the Spirit to inspire him to write this passage. What does this passage say to you? Sit with it a moment. What rises to your awareness?

Do we feel we “owe” things to others? What is our thought process that underlies this? If I have made an agreement or contract with another, I surely do owe the other my part of the contract. On the other hand,I feel like I owe an unpayable debt to veterans. It is a debt that I cannot repay because they made a willing sacrifice to ensure the freedom I enjoy. The only thing I can do is “play it forward” by living in such a way that I can support the freedom of others.

In examining our thought process, we may discover that we believe that we owe something to someone because we are in some ways tied to that person or entity in unhealthy ways. One example I see is when parents feel that they owe their children to save them from suffering. This is reasonable to some extent but crosses the boundary when they bail them out from the problems that children create for themselves over and over again instead of allowing the children to learn from their poor choices. This error in thinking often revolves around parents not being able to watch their children suffer when suffering is a part of life and a sign that somewhere a life boundary was crossed. Instead of guiding children by allowing them to learn from experience in how to make better choices, we remove the consequence. The lesson is taken away from them and the cycle repeats over and over again ad infinitum. Then the children begin to expect others to be responsible for them and to hold their discomfort at bay. The soul and spirit of the child or adult-child if they have never grown out of this crisis becomes impoverished.

Do we feel like others owe us? If it’s a contract or agreement that we have made and content of the agreement is understood by both parties, the answer may be yes. The concern I have with this question is that I see a growing number of people growing up with the cognitive distortion that “people or the world owe me….” (fill in the blank). This belief system is the way to misery because it lives by the false belief that we are the center of the universe and that life and everyone it is revolves around “me.”

St. Paul’s admonition to not fall into debt with others either in temporal ways or by becoming emotionally bound to them prevents us from being controlled by forces that may not be healthy. This is why he shifts from the theme of indebtedness to love one another. But we have to understand what the word, “love,” is. Love is often misunderstood as attachment: i.e. we “love” what serves us. “I love you” means “you make me feel good” or “I love what you do for me.” The rush of hormones surging within usually keeps us from realizing this. The “love” Paul is teaching us about has nothing to do with attachment.

The love of which Paul speaks is Divine Love which begins by the ability to see any or all the members in the Trinity within the other person(s). Since we love because he first loved us (I John 4), we, having the Trinity within us, naturally serve the Trinity within the other person(s). If I having trouble loving another in this way, seeing and serving the Trinity within them, then I have lost touch with the Reality that I am Divinely loved myself. We can’t give away what we haven’t received.

This is why Divine Love isn’t a contract, with the party of the first part saying to the party of the second part, “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Rather, Divine Love is a Covenant, where for example, two individuals make a covenant with each other, not to love tit for tat, but “to love the other–to serve the other” for what’s in other’s best interests. A marriage covenant speaks of our commitment for the other, not what the other will give to us.

At the core of all of this, this is not to mean that we do not need love from others. We’re human. The love coming from others can support us. The core of this is that the Holy Trinity is our source for equipping us with how and the energy to manifest the love that God has given us to the other. This doesn’t mean that we cannot enjoy our attachments with others because we receive blessings from them. But attachment can never stand alone because it is ultimately self-centered.

God is the source of love and the deep well from whom we draw the living water to drink and pass along to others. This is what St. Paul calls “whose service is perfect freedom because there is no debt in Divine Love. Instead we receive liberty and the taste of Divine Life in the here and how. Love essentially means “union with God.” Sharing Divine Love makes us one with one another.

I would rather live freely in Divine Love than live in debt. How about you?


Fr. Mark