I have a confession. By day, I am a Christian Therapist and Teacher. I teach forgiveness and the free life. But by night (and dark corners of the day), I am a Debt Collector.
This disturbing realization was prompted by an article I recently read. It was written by a man who worked ‘undercover’ in a debt collection agency for 3 months. He described their day. After a group meeting with his supervisor, he would sit and make “up to 150 -200 calls a day.” That sentence got a visceral reaction from me. I hate the phone and I hate adversarial conversations even more. I couldn’t imagine doing that for 8 hours a day.
Except I do.
If I honestly look at my imagination – if I slow way down and seriously examine my thoughts – I see that debt collection is exactly what I do. Throughout the day, I make ‘calls’ (imaginary conversations) to scores of people; correcting them, defending myself, setting the record straight. I have conversations with the other driver who cut me off. I have words with a family member who said something about me. I can go back years, lecturing my high school Algebra II teacher, “You know, the real problem was your teaching style.”
Yes, I make a lot of calls. I track down scores of people in the recesses of my mind. And the files! I manage and maintain hundreds, maybe thousands. Who owes? How much? How much have they attempted to pay? I drag these files along, lug them into new friendships, haul them back into family reunions, and pile them around me into bed. Yes, they have to come to bed with me. I have to make the end-of-the-day tally, you know, to keep current. A debt collector’s work is never done – what with compounding interest. For example, my high school basketball coach not only kept me off the starting five, he also changed my college options. Now I don’t have the retirement that I could’ve had. You’ve got to account for that.
The same goes for old girlfriends. The damage of rejection impacts your whole life – even if I’m glad we broke up. It was how they did it. Those damages accrue. And they set me up for considerable emotional stress. It even affects my wife and kids in untold ways. I have to hold them accountable. Well someone does.
But sometimes, at the end of the day, I wonder if it is all worth it. Debt collection wears on me. When I think of dragging around all those thick ledgers, doing all the detailed math, trying to force payment – I just feel tired. I’m thinking of retiring from debt collection.
No. Actually, I am thinking of something more radical.
I am considering canceling the debts. All of them. Real and perceived. New debt and old compounded ones. I might pull out those thick gray ledgers and line-by-line striking out the offenses recorded there. As much as I teach about forgiveness, I had never pictured it this way. Just cancel the debt. Stop the collecting. Stop the endless accounting.
So I tried it. I wrote down the names of people I hold resentments against. (Yes, your name was there.) I was shocked by it’s length; embarrassed by the pettiness of some perceived wounds; soberly grieved by the real ones. Mostly though, I was relieved. This list was opposite of all my other lists – instead of a lineup to track down, this was a list of people to release. I realized that I wasn’t just letting them go. The more I wrote, the freer I became. I was releasing myself.
Forgiveness means that I don’t require the debtor to repay. I still feel the loss. I am still out the amount of pain caused me. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the offense is OK or acceptable. It just means that I don’t have to be the debt collector. My offenders gain forgiveness; I gain freedom. I think I come out with the better deal.
What a relief! And to think- the whole time the quill has been in my hand. And it is there now. If I want to – I have the power to scratch out the debt and be released from 150-200 calls a day. It’s over. The tortured calculations. The tracking. The extractions. I can walk out of that dark accounting office and into the sun. Who’s stopping me?
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.