Interview with “Broke’ author Caryn Rivadeneira
Years ago, while visiting a Sunday school class at a new church, the teacher challenged us to take out our wallets and pass them to the person to our left. “Now, just wait,” he said while most of us squirmed in our seats. Anxiety grew as I watched the man next to me hold my wallet even though there probably was only a ten in there. Money: how much we have, how we get it, save it, spend it, and give it, is eerily personal, although it governs how we live, and often times, how we love. Our parents taught us that talk about money was impolite. You just don’t do it. But there’s lessons there, right? Can a person be broke, and yet still believe in an abundant God?
After a few moments that day in class, the teacher said we could reclaim our wallets. The whole room let out a collective sigh.
Introducing Caryn Rivadeneira
I’m pleased to welcome my friend and fellow INK and InterVarsity Press writer Caryn Rivadeneira today. Caryn’s most recent book Broke, What Financial Desperation Revealed About God’s Abundance tackles this taboo topic of money, more specifically, lack thereof, and what God taught her family through going broke. Why did Caryn chose such a difficult subject? And how does a person of faith handle it? In this brief interview, Caryn shares how God showed up through her experience, and also what she loves and hates about writing. Enjoy! (And get yourself a copy of her book. I highly recommend it!) Welcome Caryn…
Caryn, how did you decide to write about such an unexplored topic?
I don’t know that this topic is so unexplored as a genre. But it had been unexplored in my own life. For sure.
So, while we were going broke and then when we were broke, I had a hard time with God to say the least. I doubted his faithfulness and his goodness. For a while, I doubted his existence. I just couldn’t reconcile what I thought were qualities of a good God, a provider God, with what he allowed in our lives.
All along there were “simple” solutions to our financial desperation that a sovereign God could’ve “fixed” for us. So when he didn’t, I had to face my doubts and questions head on. If I were going to believe God existed and that he was faithful and that he was good, I had to look hard at my assumptions of what God’s faithfulness and blessings looked like.
Because I figure out what I think (and what God’s trying to teach me) by writing, I started writing what became Broke. Through it I began to see God’s “hand” in places I wouldn’t have otherwise. I also started to see his provision to us, his presence with us, and his goodness and faithfulness to us. And it helped me realize how upside-down my theology had been.
My hope is that my readers see this, too. We often misunderstand blessings and provision.
Even if we outwardly eschew the Prosperity Gospel, still: most of us associate God’s goodness with blessing us with health and wealth and easy street livin’. A quick gander through the Bible tells us that ain’t so. But most of us don’t like to think that God could bless us by letting us go broke, or that he blesses us by depriving us of something (or someone) that’s normally seen as the blessing.
And yet it’s in our neediness, in our dependence, that life in God is at its richest.
You write beautifully about nature in the book. Can you share a little bit here about the correlation between nature/money/God’s provision?
You’d think I was much more outdoorsy than I am from what I write in this book! I’m not really in those woods that much. Maybe that’s what makes them so sacred to me. God and I have some of our best conversations and wrestling matches in our walks through the woods.
When I need to lament—to gripe or groan to God about a hurt or frustration or some confusion or anger—I take it to the woods, or just outside. Somehow it’s there that I “hear” (or taste or see or smell or feel) God and his presence better than anywhere else. I can start the walk all angry and stompy and frustrated with God’s “negligence” and end it tingling with God’s presence and abundance.
If I believed in magic, I’d call it that. But instead, I know it as the miracle that happens when we accept God’s invitation to explore him, to take life up with him, to enter into his mystery and his unusual ways.
So while I’d love to say that I appreciate nature because when I look at birds and foxes and lilies, I remember Jesus’ command not to worry because his eye is on the sparrow and I’ll be fine. But not so. The “do not worry” and “his eye is on the sparrow” are tough passages. I confess: it only takes one run-over squirrel or one lightening-struck branch to make me go, “Oh, really?” to Jesus’ words. “So I shouldn’t worry then, Jesus? Your eye was on that squirrel and that branch?”
My time in nature is really about taking these sorts of hard questions to God. It’s there that I get reassurance of his mysterious work in the world—even though lightening still strikes and squirrels still get mowed down.
There are so many take aways. What’s one that has stuck with you since Broke published?
Oh, man. Is it bad to admit I still feel like much of it is a work in progress? It’s not like I’ve mastered the stuff I write about. It’s all about what I discover along the way. I have to revisit so much of it, remind myself to look for God, to stay sharp for his presence.
But the one idea I can’t stop noodling is his mystery. I love, love, love that God is mysterious and beckons us to explore him. I love that when God is confusing, when life disappointing, when our hurts are overwhelming, he welcomes our big questions. God invites us to poke around, to peak behind curtains, to run up those secret stairs in an effort to know him better. That’s what the Scriptures offer us and that’s what a life lived keenly aware of God’s presence and work offer us. Again, it’s in this mysterious and adventurous journey with God that abundant life awaits.
Writing question: What is the hardest thing about writing books in your opinion? Best?
The hardest thing about writing books is promoting books.
Of course, writing a book is a ton of work (and the work is not limited to butt-in-chair time, but includes the decades of mastering the craft, the months spent dreaming, planning, plotting and then the ever-restless heart, mind and soul that must accompany the book-writing). But writing a book energizes me. I love it and don’t think of it as “hardest” in any way.
But promoting a book, being “on” and “out there?” Fun, but exhausting. Facing less-than-stellar reviews, worrying about disappointing publishers if sales don’t meet expectations? Not fun, and exhausting. Definitely the hardest.
The best part about writing a book is the rest of it. I love everything from the initial seed, what-if thoughts that spark an idea to the jotting down random notes to the starting to craft chapter ideas and a proposal (okay, I don’t really love the proposal part), to the sitting down to write. The sitting down to write is actually the best.
Being able to do this is one of the greatest blessings of my life. And I’m thrilled that God broke me to bless me in this way. It may sound cheesy and trite, but it’s true. Writing books hasn’t made me rich financially but it’s made me rich in way better ways.
Caryn Rivadeneira is a writer, speaker and author of 5 book, the most recent of which is Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God’s Abundance (InterVarsity Press, 2014). You can hear Caryn on Moody Radio‘s Midday Connection, where she is either on-air or producing, part-time. Caryn lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three kids and one rescued pit bull. Visit Caryn at carynrivadeneira.com.