Dealing With Debt

Bill Abbate
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What are your debts? Will you ever be able to repay them in full? If you are like most of us, the first thing that comes to mind is how much money you owe.

This article is about a different kind of debt. A debt no amount of money can repay.

What debts do you owe?

What do you owe to whom and why? Could you ever fully repay it? It is only natural to think about the debts we owe in dollars and cents, but this article is about more than money.

Some debts are so meaningful no amount of money can repay them. A few extend beyond life itself.

I came across something written by an 18th-century German writer, poet, and philosopher that made me ask myself the opening question in this article. The quote is:

“What do I oweto my times, to my country, to my neighbors, to my friends?Such are the questions whicha virtuous man ought often to ask himself.” Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801)

Besides Lavater’s list, a few other debts come to mind, such as what I owe for my heritage, family, career, and life.

We are undoubtedly indebted to our parents, whether they are alive or have passed. We are also indebted to our ancestors, whether we know who they were or not. While both of my parents are deceased, I owe them my life. How could I ever repay them for that?

A small way I can repay my parents is by remembering and honoring them in my writing, leaving words future generations can read and understand a little about who they were and the son they created. I can also honor them by how I live, my achievements in life, my family, and many other ways.

What do you owe to your family, and how they influenced your life? I owe one of my aunts a great deal. She made it possible for me to return to the USA and finish High School while my parents stayed in Europe. She and her husband helped shape part of my life through their generosity.

While all family is important, our spouses and children top the list. They are those most of us would gladly give our lives for. Their importance and value are so great we could never repay our debt to them in full. But we can love and honor them by appreciating them and helping them live good lives.

A big part of every life is the career we choose. Who and what do we owe for it? Maybe our parents helped fund at least part of our education. What about our teachers, professors, bosses, and colleagues? Then there is the experience provided by the companies we worked for and the relationships made. We owe a great deal to many.

Then there is life itself. If you believe in God, you know who to thank and to whom you owe a great debt. If you are a Christian, it is even more personal because of the love and saving grace of Christ, who gave His life for us and who gives us eternal life. How could we even begin to repay such a debt? But we can live a biblically-based life and point people to Him, which we are all called to do.

If you are an American, despite what anyone tries to tell you, you are fortunate to live in the greatest country the world has ever known. It is nearly impossible to repay the debt this birthright gives us, but some have done so through the ultimate sacrifice. They have fought or continue to fight for our liberty. They served us well in wartime and peacetime on foreign and American soil. To all those who serve or have served in the military or on a police force to preserve law and order in society, we owe an incalculable debt.

It is shameful when someone disrespects our country, feeling they do not owe it anything. Sadly, this includes too many politicians today. Their feelings of entitlement or greed overwhelm their ability to think. How can any American not feel indebted to those who founded the United States and those protecting it? Repaying such debt can only be done in selfless service to our country or by putting our lives on the line for it.

Lastly, how could we ever repay the many people who have influenced our lives? Few words can describe the incredible influence of so many people on us. They are a large part of what makes us who we are. In the end, life is all about relationships, and the best way to repay them is to appreciate their impact on our lives.

Can these debts ever be repaid?

How could any of the debts mentioned above ever be repaid? While we have already touched on ways to attempt to repay some, there is far more we can do. Outside of sacrificing our lives, a way stands out where we can begin to repay a portion of the debt we owe. The answer lies in Lavater’s words in the second half of his statement — “Such are the questions which a virtuous man ought often to ask himself.” As was typical in writing of Lavater’s day, “man” includes women, so we mustn’t forget them!

Think about the word virtuous. It means to be good, moral, righteous, honorable, and worthy. Are those not things most of us seek in our lives, especially when we near its end? Here are a few items that come to mind to help us repay our debts. We can:

  • Do our best to honor others, especially those we owe much to.
  • Offer a kind word, a helping hand, and an open heart.
  • Seek to do right in all we owe by doing our best to act appropriately and rightfully.
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Treat everyone with respect.
  • Keep financial debt at bay by exercising discipline and self-control.
  • Write words that honor them and will last far beyond our lifetime.
  • Be grateful for the past that has shaped us, for all we have, and for all we are becoming.

What other ways can you think of to repay part of the great debt we owe in life? I would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below.

Final thoughts

The greatest way we can attempt to repay the enormous debt we owe in our lives is by being grateful and showing appreciation to those we owe so much. We can keep them in our memories, giving credit whenever we can, and write to let the world know what they have done.

Two thousand years ago, Cicero recognized the connection between gratitude and virtue.

“Gratitude is not only thegreatest of virtues, but theparentof all the others.” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC)

Remaining grateful all the days of our lives is the best virtue we may ever find to repay even a small portion of the debt owed to others in this world. Always remember what Lavater encouraged us to do to those we owe a great debt — “Such are the questions which a virtuous man ought often to ask himself.”


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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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