“And when I thought of the poor I had met in my life, especially in recent years, it was clear that there were poor who were only poor—very sad, often angry, and certainly not blessed.
And then again, I recalled very well, there were poor people who were quite otherwise, poor people who wore their poverty beautifully.
Poor people who had the conviction that they were being guided by God, supported by his Presence.
Poor people who were able to love, in spite of their sudden vexations—poor people who were patient in trial, rich in hope, strong in adversity.
Poor people who were blessed because they could bear witness, every day, that God was present in their lives, and that he provided for them as he did for the sparrows of the ski, which possess no granaries.”
- From I, Francis by Carlo Carretto
Having grown up middle class in a depressed part of Appalachian Ohio, I have always been around poverty. I’ve been on both sides of the poverty level, and for the last 12 years or so have floated above and beneath it. I’ve seen people with plenty live miserable lives, and I’ve seen people with little be beacons of light and hope in an otherwise dark valley.
I hold no degree in social work. I have no deep psychological training. I have only a varied and rich lived experience to base my thoughts. But what I see as poverty is not so much the amount of money you have, if any, or the condition of your home or possessions. What I see as the real poverty is a lack of hope.
I think that by and large, that is the real failure of social welfare programs from the government. The problem isn’t mass benefit fraud, though that exists. It’s not people being lazy and refusing to work, though that is certainly an issue for some. No, the failure of the War on Poverty isn’t a lack of money but a lack of hope. The government can give out money all day long. What it can’t do is offer hope and community. That can only come from other people.
In the Gospels, when Jesus called us the salt of the earth, he meant to convey a message that we are his agents in this world. We carry out his mission. And His mission is that we make disciples who love God and love others. And while I would say you can never successfully secularize, or remove the aspect of faith and conversion, from that mission, there is the universal need of hope.
From a spiritual standpoint, Jesus is the hope of the Gospel. A person who is lost in their sin, and even made aware of that by an honest inward look, has no reason to follow Jesus unless they realize that with him there is hope, indeed something far surer than hope.
As a Christ follower and one who has theology as the heart of his philosophy, I believe that it follows that the reason for many, not all, in not seeking to live their lives to the fullest, to their God-given potential, is a lack of hope. Sure, there are some that simply need to find a good job. But how many times has that job fallen through before, or discouragement or other barriers crept into their lives, and they give up? Yes, there are those who have deeper issues that need explored with a qualified professional, but I have seen time and time again where that counseling experience didn’t work because there was no hope of a change.
Jesus said that “the poor you will always have with you.” Let’s be honest. Some of us conservative Christians have used that snippet of a verse to justify inaction on behalf of the poor. Thinking to ourselves that because the Messiah said they would always be around that there is no sense in trying to solve a problem that will never stop. And contrary to what some televangelists and faith-healers would have you to believe, Jesus did not come to this world to eradicate poverty. But he did come to give hope.
And so it is with us. We will never eradicate poverty based on income levels and financial goals. But we can work to eliminate the mindset of poverty where people have simply given up. Even some of the most stubborn, some who might be called lazy, have not found a motivation, a reason for being. They need hope. Not the hope of riches or having nicer things, but of a new mindset, one that looks for the good and that sees the good. One that can live cheerfully and as Carlo Carretto said, wear “their poverty beautifully.”
So today, let’s encourage hope. Let’s seek to lift each other up. You don’t have to be financially poor to be hope poor. Be a blessing to others, and so fulfill the law of Christ.