Broke, Caryn Rivadeneira. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Summary: The author reflects on the experience of losing nearly all financially, and what she learned by being broke and broken about the provision and abundance of God.
I think I may be an atypical reader of this book. From the endorsements, all by women, it appears that this is a book written by a woman for a female audience. It may even have been marketed as such. And I think this a big mistake. This is an important book for men to read because our relationship to money, and how that shapes our relationship to God is a vital matter for men to consider. It is my observation that for many men, where God has broken through in their lives is when they were broke, and broken, financially and cast upon the resources of God, and the Christian community.
That is the story of this book. Caryn Rivadeneira and her husband Rafi began with a storybook marriage. He was an investment manager, she a talented, college-educated writer. Together, on their wedding day, they had a bright future before them. They were the people who liked to give generously and help others. And then the bottom fell out as Rafi tired of his work, and then in the economic downturn, had difficulties finding other work, and Caryn just couldn’t make it on her writing gigs. Suddenly, they were dependent on the help of family and gifts and loans of friends just to stay afloat.
She recounts her struggle as it seems God doesn’t hear her cries to be delivered from their financial straits, and then the gradual and growing realization that, for a while at least, there were other things God wanted to be up to in her life. Coming to terms with mystery. Understanding that prayers for daily bread can be just that. Learning that the things we may run from, like enrolling your children in public schools, may be God’s invitation. Learning to wait for God when the shock and numbness of loss leave one feeling bereft of belief. She learns anew to keep company with Jesus and to cultivate the imagination of faith, and sometimes to be dazzled with the wonder of all the goodness that remains in the world, even in one’s “brokenness.”
The journey she describes is a journey many men face as well. Though there are more two-income families, the lingering sense of men’s call to be the “breadwinner” and to forge one’s sense of identity around doing this well may need to yield at some point to a deeper awareness of God as the provider of bread, of the gifts of life one does not work for, and an identity finds its roots at a deeper level that what one does and earns. If there was one thing I wish there had been more of was that we would have heard more of Rafi’s experience of this time, more of how they traversed this season together. I don’t know the reasons that Caryn chose to write this book primarily around her own perspective. Perhaps it was to respect her husband’s journey. Whatever the case, it may be that the “like and unlike” narrative of a woman’s struggle with financial destitution may speak at a different level to men than simply another man’s perspective.
We are left without a clear resolution of their financial challenges although we get the sense that things have gotten better. More important than finding financial security, Rivadeneira finds God anew. She writes:
“We survived. I kept breathing. I kept stepping. And somewhere in the cracks, along the ragged edges of my marriage, in the desperate gasps of sudden poverty and all the questions that came with it, there was God. Big and glittering, soft and warm, smiling and beckoning. Somehow in the shimmers of all that, I began to taste and see, and feel and know, and hear and smell that God is good, and he was there in the broke bits. That he was using our time near the poverty line, treading in debt, to draw me near, to make me over, to answer a prayer bigger than my material needs. In this season of spiritual and financial brokenness, in this time of longing to know what God was up to and to experience his goodness and presence, God worked me over by showing me where and how I could find him. Which is all over the place. In every last thing, He satisfied my wonderlust–my unquenchable desire to feel his presence and to experience his glory. And I found him. And I found him good.”
The hope this book offers is not a “prosperity gospel” but the abundance of God Himself. Sometimes we just have to be broke before we find it.