Let’s have a chat, middle-class America.
Being poor is rough. Wondering how you’re going to pay the bills is the least-fun experience ever. Going through a season of uncertainty is tiring with all the anxiety and stress that wages war on your mind.
But you know what we hate more than being broke?
It’s okay to sometimes admit being “middle-class” and not being able to afford “luxuries.”
But being needy? Asking for help? Receiving help?
That’s out of the question.
Because then I’d have to admit I’m not self-sufficient. Run the risk of being thought of as a failure, that maybe I’m a fully-functioning adult who can’t even afford to pay the bills, much less go out and spend time with friends and community.
So what do we do? We don’t ask for help. Yet at the same time we don’t ever say “no.”
How does this pan out in our lives? Here’s where I think this death-trap leads:
Why are credit cards and loans and payment plans so attractive? We are able to receive help from someone who doesn’t know us and is completely removed from our lives. We’re able to keep up the appearance and expectation of the life we want to live in front of the people we want to be respected by.
Virtual financial help gives us a false sense of security. I’ve never heard a person stand up in a community gathering or Wednesday night prayer service and vulnerably say, “I don’t know if I can afford gas to make it until my next paycheck.” But that same person might go to a gas company and apply for a rewards credit card.
Better than admit I can’t make it on my own.
When we find our own “resources” instead of helping each other, then we become too good to receive help and further ingrain this shame culture, that somehow I’m not valuable if I can’t live the life I think I’m supposed to live.
And feeling shamed leads to the next point:
We isolate ourselves from others.
If I can’t keep up, if I can’t afford to eat at the places everyone else eats at, if I can’t have a home that I expect to have in order to invite people over, then I might as well not spend time with people at all.
I know. I’m with you. I get it, people.
This has been hands-down the most difficult year in my life. Financially, it’s seemed near crushing at times. And I’m like, “Geez, when will this ever end?!”
And in those dark hours I had to face my fears.
“Face your fears” is such a cliche phrase and I’ve wondered if it actually meant anything.
Now I know it means that these fears lurk in the deep recesses of your heart, and you kinda know they’re there, but you work hard to keep ahead so that you never have to face them and admit you have weaknesses.
Until everything is taken away.
And then you realize that stripped down you are a whole lot more unstable than you ever thought.
When everything was gone, when last summer I lost all my work and a job offer in a single moment, I was frightened beyond anything I could imagine.
In that moment and the days to follow, I made the difficult decision to work through it instead of finding a quick healing balm to surpress the pain. Credit cards and bank loans are easy compared to reading your own Fear statement.
Now before you think about how epically brave this was, keep reading.
Though I found I was fine with not having much, I quickly discovered another issue.
The Real Fear.
Here it is.
I didn’t want to be needy.
I was fine with living simply. I just didn’t want to lose control.
And now the control was gone. I couldn’t hide any longer. And even if I tried, it wouldn’t have worked very long because the situation didn’t really change and hasn’t really yet.
So here I am, thinking now that maybe I’m supposed to learn something from this instead of just fixing the problem. Maybe I’m supposed to change. Maybe these things make you stronger because you have to accept your weaknesses in order to be stronger. Weird how that work, huh?
So thus the epiphany moment. And as I’ve been thinking big picture about this now, here’s some positive things I’ve learned this year about being broke.
Your pride barrier is lowered, thus you become more humble.
There’s nothing more humbling than being broke, because then you realize that maybe my world doesn’t revolve around me and my bank account. Maybe I’m not defined by my income.
When you become more humble, you are more relatable and empathetic.
Humility pushes you to see the world through other people’s eyes. If you can do that, if you become a truly empathetic individual, then you have huge capacity to relate in relationships, which makes you a better person and contributor to your community.
When you don’t have much, you are free, thus you have power.
When we give our lives over to “getting,” getting a car, getting more furniture, getting a bigger house, getting a bigger paycheck, then you also get slavery. It’s sad to see so many people that are owned by possessions.
When you don’t have much? Then you’re free. Free to give the power to things that last for a lifetime and eternity.
If you owe, you don’t have power. Someone else does.
The moment you let someone else pay for you, you have removed power from yourself and given it to another. Isn’t crazy how we choose to give power to credit companies who could care less about us? If you must borrow, then at least borrow from someone who cares about you.
Having little is the garden that creativity and innovation grows in.
Have you seen someone with loads of money and options? They typically aren’t very creative. Other people think for them because they don’t have to think. They have money now.
Sometimes we exchange power in thought for power in money. That’s a dire mistake.
Being poor is a mindset.
You can choose to focus all your attention inwardly and be consumed with your lack of resources and how that affects your life.
OR you can choose to accept where your current situation, and then focus your attention outward to the opportunity you have through your current situation.
I may have next to nothing, but I am wealthy in every way. Because I’ve learned to measure wealth in character, in love, in relationships.
Never let anyone tell you you’re less than your wealth in character, love and relationships, that somehow you are defined by your money, possessions, lifestyle, restaurant choice, education, or job.
Because they are the poor ones. And they will never know the riches that are experienced in the things in life that don’t have price tags on it.