Day 17 in Proverbs
When was the last time you were visiting in a “bad” neighborhood? (Smiling because I know some of my friends have been there….but know others avoid it like the plague!) Why is that the case? Having lived in what would be considered a bad neighborhood at points in my life, I probably don’t notice quite as easily as everyone else. Usually I only know what the “bad” neighborhoods are because someone tells me. Like when someone told me that if you lived down the street from the homeless shelter, that meant you probably were in one. Yes, I happened to be living down the street from the homeless shelter at the time. (What can I say? Everyone was nice to me! Who knew?) I do recognize that my neighborhood now would be considered “good” by most…..and I have a high degree of confidence that when I leave for an hour (or a week) all my stuff will be here when I return. I forget sometimes that I am blessed….and that the lack of anxiety in this area is not shared by all.
I also have realized lately that my life has become insulated….at my own hand….and I am not rubbing shoulders with those who live in different kinds of neighborhoods at all. It’s on my ‘to do” list to change. I don’t want to become someone who is unbalanced and starts to feel entitled. Plus I don’t want to be someone who doesn’t pass on some of the “secrets.” I still believe most people in this country can live a really good life…..if they really want it. I recognize that some don’t. But some do and they need mentors. And at least some of those mentors need to be those of us who have led a cushy life in comparison (often just because of the family in which we were born.)
When was the last time you made jokes about someone panhandling on the side of the road? Yes, I have done this…..and even knowing that the backstories of some of the particular people are not always what they appear to be. A homeless guy told me once that drug and alcohol abuse accounts for over 90% of homelessness. I believe him. Often drugs and alcohol impact the lives of people in such a way that disgusts us. That disgust overrides the compassion…..and we don’t really see them as people. Because we have not been in that place….or maybe sometimes because we were there or close to there and brought ourselves out of it…..we just see them as weak. Not the drugs and the alcohol as powerful. And they are so powerful…..especially to people with certain blood chemistry. The spiral happens to those even from the best neighborhoods.
When was the last time you made a disparaging comment about someone who was poor….and not spending their money the way you would spend that money? We forget that managing money is a skill, and sometimes people have never learned it. They live day to day, spending as they go. When bad times hit, they have no reserves. They go in debt, and rent money. And renting money is even more expensive when you don’t have money. It is a cycle that goes on and on. Through generations. And people give up….and want something special for themselves, so they buy it. Even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Unless someone leads them out and teaches them how to get out, it usually doesn’t stop. It takes work and desire on their part….and encouragement on ours.
One of my best gifts ever came from a guy in DC who was formerly homeless, but had picked himself up (with help that was offered), and afterward ordered his life so he could go back and volunteer to help others who had been in his circumstance. He was involved in a program that provided a prayer breakfast for homeless people every day, then that developed leaders amongst them by getting them involved in small group Bible studies and accountability groups. This program also got donations for and ran a food and clothes closet where people could come once a week and get these essential things they needed to survive. I worked there with him for a week and on my last day he arrived with a beautiful pink carnation for me. I knew it was a sacrifice for him to buy it, but he wanted to give to me. I loved it. I believe that was why he was successful….because he looked for ways to give back. And it was so touching to me, and so encouraging, to be a recipient of a gift from him. Long after it had faded and withered, it remained a symbol to me that being poor is not an unchangeable circumstance, that it can happen to even smart and nice people, that reaching out your hand can mean the difference in a life, that being able to work and be productive is a good and necessary thing, and that giving back is a critical part of the cycle of thankfulness. Making fun of someone in trouble? I hope that it is never me. I’d rather be the one cheering them on…..and seeing them succeed.
How are you teaching your children? What are the other people you are exposing them to in their lives teaching them? To me hearing the insults to the poor are all the more tragic when they come from what should be the sweet and tender hearts of children. I hate when children notice the haves and the have nots, think they are “haves” because they are better than the “have nots”, and especially when they are not willing to share their stuff. That often comes from parental teaching….or lack of correction. Sometimes it comes from a warped heart. I included the verses about fools because we can become fools because of the teaching of our parents, or in spite of it. But if you are a parent doing your job well, or who has done your job well, it should matter to you how your children view these things. Regardless of their age. You should feel actual pain when your child is a fool. You should notice. Because as a parent it is your job to teach….and to pay attention to who they really are and not just who you want them to be.
We insult the poor when we don’t acknowledge the source of their poverty. We insult the poor when we don’t give them the tools to change their status. We insult the poor when we don’t share our stuff…..and realize that the difference is not usually the material things, but our education. We insult the poor when we provide only food and shelter to them, but not drug and alcohol rehab. We insult the poor when we give, but don’t let them give back to us (we dehumanize them.) We insult the poor when we don’t teach the concept of reaping what you sow, and work on giving them tools to sow seeds to reap good things in their life. We insult the poor when we don’t look on them with hope. We insult the poor when we don’t notice they are there. We insult the poor when we don’t see ourselves in them. And when we insult the poor, we insult the God who created them. It does not go unnoticed.