A young couple is checking out in front of me at the grocery store. It's late in the evening, I've had a challenging day at work, and I'm ready to be home. I'm dutifully perusing all of the last minute temptations they place in the checkout line when I realize that the couple is having an issue paying. Their card has been declined. I start paying a bit more attention when voices begin sounding strained and upset. I'm on alert for danger, a byproduct of this world we live in. Suddenly, I realize that they are paying with a welfare card and something in their over-flowing cart is not approved. They have separated their things, they know what they can and cannot purchase, and they are frustrated by this delay.

It's a $10 dollar difference. My first reaction is to offer to pay for the item, but the tension is high, and I instinctively realize that they don't need any more people involved in the situation. The cashier begins to get flustered and embarrassed, obviously wanting the transaction to be just be finished. The couple looks only at the cashier, but they don’t give any of the “I'm so sorry about this,” looks that you get when you have an item with no bar-code that slows down a line. Their look says, “Do something about this. Now.” They are adamant that everything is approved.

Soon a manager comes and helps the cashier resolve the issue. I can't tell if she understands what went wrong, or if she just understood the situation needed resolved, but in either case, she quickly completes the transaction and the couple leaves. She tells the cashier to take a break.

I'm quickly checked out and on my way as well. As I leave I pass by the cashier, and she is crying as she explains to a co-worker that she did the best she could. I stop and tell her she handled the situation very well, it was just a bit embarrassing for everyone, and that is why there was tension. It wasn't the cashier’s fault that things went awry. I drive home thinking about all that I have learned in my research on this topic and the wealth of dynamics that are at play in all of our lives.

The next day, I see yet another post on Facebook decrying the maddening experience of being in line behind someone on welfare buying better food than you do, and walking out only to see them get into a nicer car than you have. Almost instinctively, I wondered what kind of car that couple was driving…and then I wonder why I'm even thinking of it.

I figured it out. I'm prejudiced against welfare recipients. White, black, old, young–it matters not. Instead of being filled with compassion, I'm more likely to ask, “Why?” Why do you need welfare? You look fine to me. Looks like you made it to the store; did you drive? If you need welfare, how can you afford a car? I wonder how nice your car is.

I'm so mortified. Here I am writing a series on poverty, and I'm prejudiced against my subject. Really? I want to find a softer word, something that doesn't carry as much weight as the word 'prejudice', but if the word fits…

How do we land in this place of prejudice and suspicion so very easily? Because, that's the easy response. Righteous indignation feels so good. Nothing can pump you up like smug superiority. And rarely do you get a chance to feel so justified as you do with welfare recipients.

I am so ashamed, but sometimes, I am also right. There really are some people that purposely de-fraud the system. Shame on them, right? It's ok to be angered by this abuse, right?

No, not right. It is all lack. It is all brokenness. Whether you lack ethics or money, you are still facing poverty. You are still experiencing a broken relationship.

I don't think God differentiates our lack. When He sees a person abusing the welfare system, He weeps. He knows that it's fraud, and His heart breaks for the people who are committing it. When He sees me silently judging them, He weeps as well. He knows that I'm a fraud, and His heart breaks for me.

God wants us all to be restored to Him. God wants all of our lack to be addressed. But until we can humble ourselves to the point that we recognize our own poverty, we will never be able to help others out of theirs.

I write this tonight because I'm going to move us from the discussion of what causes poverty and begin talking about what actions we can take to help. But one thing has become crystal clear to me in my research unless we can acknowledge our own poverty, we cannot help.

I don't subscribe to a 'victim' mentality, but I do subscribe to reality. The reality is that most poor people lack the resources required to escape their current situation. It is complex, and it varies from person to person, but some combination of the following contributes to their particular situation:

Lack of self-respect – If you have never been treated as a person of value, you will have trouble believing that you are valuable.

Lack of respect for others – If you do not respect yourself, you cannot respect others.

Inability to see a brighter future – If your perspective is limited to your upbringing and it was in a state of lack, then you cannot imagine that which you do not know.

Lack of available jobs – Our economy has shifted dramatically, and there are simply far fewer entry level positions.

Inability to manage money – If you were never taught how to budget and you live with nothing, then when you do finally get money, it's hard to not treat yourself or your family to unnecessary things and experiences.

Lack of education – Poor neighborhoods have poor schools. Poor parents either cannot show their children that education is to be valued because they are too busy trying to survive, or they are uneducated themselves and do not know the value.

Inadequate nutrition – Physically, your diet will impact your ability to learn and function.

Inadequate sleep – Likewise, sleep deprivation will impact your ability to learn and function.

Too much stress – The effects of chronic long term stress can lead to the inability to form heathy relationships, lower reading scores, significant memory loss, and much more.

Some combination of these things contribute to every individual‘s poverty to some extent, including my own. We have to acknowledge the reality that people will not be able to pick themselves up by their bootstraps if they do not own boots.

So, we are going to move forward next week, we are going to start talking about how we can DO something about the poverty in our own lives, and the poverty in our world. But I thought it was important to at first be honest and admit that I have some poverty within myself that is being drawn out by God as I research this topic.

And just to clarify – I find this all very challenging. I would much rather sit in my righteous anger and judgment. I'm not leading anyone, anywhere. I'm begrudgingly being led right along with you.

So, let me hear from you? Where did this hit you? Are you mad that I'm a fraud? Did you see some prejudice in yourself, too? What does it feel like for you to see that?



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