Some of my more jaded journalist pals have been taking bets about which words are considered golden in “moving the needle,” (gaining voter support) in this rancorous election season. The word jobs, of course, is a biggie. But so is any mention of poverty or the poor.
Everyone seems to think they know and care a lot about the poor (or, conversely, don’t care, because they think the poor have made their own lousy bed and now must lie in it.)
How much do you know about the poor in the United States? The Census Bureau says 46.2 million people currently live in poverty–more than 16 million children, one in every four children under age six.
Do you personally know anyone who qualifies as poor? Or do you picture most poor people as welfare cheats and lowlifes trying to scam the system? I’ve met several people lately who don’t fit that profile.
Scene #1: A suburban Bible study where I met a average-looking stay-at-home mom. Her husband had lost his job and their savings in a bad business decision and couldn’t find another job. Her family, including three kids, had moved into her mother’s basement, which turned out to be a disaster. They needed to move, but no shelters in the area would take a family of five, so they were considering whether living in a tent or in their van was the best option.
If you’re already thinking about how to fix her problem, that’s not the point. Try to feel what it is like to be in her shoes.
Scene #2: An ice cream shop where I met a man who is being squeezed out of his profession due to age and a bum knee. He can’t afford surgery because he can’t even afford the co-pays on his health insurance. He wore a cap to cover the fact he has no money for a haircut. He wore reading glasses from the Dollar Store because he can’t afford the prescription bifocals he needs. He’s desperately searching for work but isn’t qualified for the work that’s available. He moved to low-income housing and is trying to survive off a modest social security check. Can you feel his creeping desperation?
Scene #3: A city bus trip through a poor part of town, a trip my husband and I took to get a taste of what life is like without a car. A single mother struggled to climb aboard with a baby in a stroller, a young child in tow, and two sacks of groceries. A man in a wheelchair waited while the bus driver lowered the ramp that would allow him to get on the bus with his oxygen unit, then reverse the process later when he got off the bus. It was cold and windy. No one was smiling. Can you feel their fatigue, their self-consciousness?
The poor are not just statistics. They have faces and names. They are people who weep when they cannot heat their home and suffer embarrassment when their kids have no book bag or snow boots. They need more than a turkey at Thanksgiving and a toy at Christmas. They need people who will come alongside them with compassion and understanding, people who understand we are all poor in some way and we need each other.
The Potter’s House serves 11,000 people (6,500 of whom are children) who live in the world’s largest dump in Guatemala City. The organization knows a lot about the poor. They say poverty is complicated and takes many forms:
- Spiritual Poverty: Lack of relationship with God
- Intellectual Poverty: Lack of access to knowledge
- Poverty of Affection: Lack of love
- Poverty of the Will: Lack of self-control
- Physical Poverty: Lack of health
- Poverty of Support Network: Lack of family and community
- Poverty of Civic Involvement: Lack of community cooperation
- Economic Poverty: Lack of resources
Have you considered that you, too, might be poor in some way? Do you understand that the most devastating poverty is spiritual? Spiritual poverty means you have no relationship with the One Person who will stand with you in whatever poverty you face.
When you know your poverty and feel poor enough to run to God, not only will you find the comfort you need. He promises enough comfort to share with those who have not yet found him and who desperately need hope, not judgment.
“Praise be to…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (II Cor. 1:3-4)
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