Honest Confessions About Being Poor

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?

Being needy.

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:

Credit cardWe find another un-related party to pay for us. 

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.

Should I Help That Beggar?

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It’s a discussion that goes on all the time and Facebook comments run rampant with the best solution on how to decide whether or not to help out that beggar or homeless person or man with the cardboard sign or the lady with the sad family story.

We’ve all heard it before.

Veteran with no money. Need job.

Single mom of 3 kids. No money. Please help.

Homeless and hungry.

Need money and food.

Will work for food.

Need cash for weed.

Hey, at least he was honest.

And maybe they all are. But how do you know? How can you be sure that they actually need help?

And then the discussion explodes.

We create the list. Here’s what you need to prove in order to get my help. As long as you’re legitimately needy, perfectly helpless, have lived a perfect life in destitution, haven’t taken advantage of anyone, aren’t doing anything illegal, and are totally down and out (and not of your own doing, of course), then…maybe then I can help.

As long as you have the most selfless intentions, then, then alone, will I give you help since now my sense of justice is fulfilled.

Because I’m the final judge of whether or not you deserve goodness. I mean, why in the world would anyone help someone who didn’t even deserve it? If I’m going to give you something for free then you must allow me to have the totally selfless satisfaction that I am a real do-gooder for the betterment of society.

Ok. Let’s stop.

Can we please remove the totally fake mask covering this whole discussion? And this is the very mask I’ve gone to grips with in my own life and heart. Why don’t we just verbalize what’s really going on in our heads? It’s then we realize how judgmental it can be.

The proof of love and pure goodness is how we do love and do good to the poor and destitute when they least deserve it. Because one day I have to realize that I am one of those least deserved. That what separates me from them is one series of unfortunate events, or perhaps a slow series of bad decisions. Just as I have the same potential to be in their state, so they have the potential to be in mine. And as the one with the stronger hold on life, it’s my responsibility to care for the poor.

It’s not Salvation Army’s responsibility.

It’s not the government’s.

It’s not the missionary church’s.

It’s yours. It’s mine. The future and health of our cities and neighborhoods are under our ownership. Do you believe this? Do I?

I know, there are so many hard questions around this topic.

I can’t help everybody. Who do I help?

I get this. I’m single, I’m a woman, I don’t have much money, I don’t have many resources. None of those, however, are limitations. It’s just how I have to think about my approach to helping. So for me, it’s simply been the choice to love the one in front of you. Be intentional about it and be prepared. Don’t drive to the homeless section of town when you haven’t reached out to your coworker who you know struggles as a single-mom and is constantly stressed about making ends meet. Start with that person. And walk into the opportunities that follow.

So you’re saying that every person that asks me for money, food, etc… I should give to them, just like that?

Great question. How about this: we instead initiate to ask the needy and poor how we can help them. Novel! You know what this does? It gives us a sense of purpose and intentionality. We can now plan. We can put it in our budget and focus. It also makes things clear so we can say no to certain things and yes to the ones we want to focus on. It’s ok to say no. But do it because you already know where your help is going, not because of pure judgement.

I feel guilty because I have this sense of compassion for everyone I see that needs help and it’s overwhelming! Maybe I should just stifle that feeling?

As a human, this should be natural and normal. Be so careful of squelching compassion because soon you will be totally empty. We are all built with an innate sense of compassion, some cultures nurturing it more than others. We also all have a sense of goodness when we give. Again, though, the more you live in selfishness, and some in real evil, the more this will be silenced altogether. So it’s ok to hurt for those you can’t do anything about. But what you can do, do well and with your whole heart.

For children of God and those in relationship with Jesus, it’s such a real, (super)natural reaction, because once we have chosen God and live in the reality of the wonderful life He has so graciously gifted us, we see and love others through His eyes of love. And He loves the world best and the most of all. He’s pretty awesome at love.

Giving isn’t my gift.

If you have the gift of life, you have the gift of giving. You have something to offer. It will look different from me and from the person next to you. But we all have the responsibility to help those that are weaker than us, for the vulnerable. Your gift might not be money, but it may be time, or an open house, or that extra bike, or homemade Pinterest caramel brownies. Not only is it God’s loving command (there’s so much happiness and joy in it!) but it takes us to a deeper level of relationship with him. His nature is giving to those that are most undeserving, like you and I. He chose us in our worst state! Does this not inspire to give and love others into the kingdom??

But I might be taken advantage of.

I’ve struggled through this on so many levels. I’ve heard this on blog posts, Facebook comments, Sunday school lessons, coffee conversations, and all from people with good intentions. This guy asked me for money for food and then I realized he was a druggie, so I said no. Whew, almost enabled someone!

Do you have any idea what just happened? Someone who clearly has major problems asks you for something superficial, and based off the knowledge of deeper problems he has, you choose to reject helping him with the surface issue while totally ignoring the huge, major issue that you’ve already discovered! Perhaps he needs someone to ask him if he would like someone to walk with him to a local rehab center. Perhaps she needs someone to speak truth into her life of what she was created to be, of how much she is loved, by you and God. Perhaps he needs a weekly friend to stop by and talk for 15 minutes, and when he’s ready to give up his life for a better one, you will be he one he goes to.

Maybe we need to apply our intelligence and knowledge and lead them to a path of what they truly need. It creates purpose and hope. Walking away is easy, but it never gives hope. And giving hope is often really awkward and super uncomfortable. But it’s the path to freedom.

We settle with way too little. We desperately cling to our sense of justice and fear of being taken advantage of.

How big is your love? How much can it take? Often, the point here is not necessarily the helping itself; it’s the times when you are betrayed and lied to and taken advantage of, and then…you could walk away totally justified. Or, you have the chance to look them in the eye and say, “I still choose to love you and forgive you and offer the best help for you.” That is when pure love and goodness is on display for the world.

And it takes radical love to change the world, your city, your neighborhood.

And I am not saying this from a narrow positive opportunist viewpoint, totally naive to the realities of misuse. I’ve been the recipient of lies and betrayal in very deep ways. In life, family, friendships, work, dating relationships. And this isn’t just “the past.” Recently I lived under the lies and manipulation of a guy I was in a relationship with, and lived with the subsequent emotional trauma of betrayal.

I get it. It doesn’t feel good. The natural response is to run, to protect yourself from any other hurt in the future, to assume the worst of people.

This is when your love shows up. Was it all about what you could get out of it? Or was it about you choosing to live love without expectations and demands? It’s hard. You’ll mess up, get messy, be exposed to really uncomfortable situations, and have to face your own fears. It’s awkward and confusing. You yourself will have to be needy on wisdom, on God, on others to help you.

But at the end of the day you will know that you chose love. And whether it looks like a giftcard or money or buying groceries or opening up your guest room or throwing dinner parties to the least of these or offering your business expertise or even just a word of encouragement and a prayer, it is all never in vain.

Watch not just your life open up, but your heart. Watch your neighborhood change, your city catch the fever. As William Wilborforce, leader of societal reform in England and the end of international slave trade, said,

Let’s make goodness fashionable.