I have a lot of stuff. Over the past two years, I’ve sorted through everything in my room multiple times and given away things I don’t wear, don’t use, and don’t need. But I still have so. much. stuff. When it comes right down to it, I feel better about myself because of the stuff I have. If I can dress well, I’m valuable. If I have cute pens or fancy, scented pencils (no, folks, I’m not making this up), I have worth. If I have the right jewelry to wear, I matter more.
Measuring my worth by what I do or don’t have means measuring the worth of others in the same way. And when I tie my value to my stuff, I can’t help but see myself as better than those who don’t have as much as I do.
Reading When Helping Hurts and beginning to understand what poverty actually is rocked my world. It’s not about a lack of possessions, but broken relationships. Our relationships with God, others, creation, and ourselves are broken. We don’t know how to relate to each other. We don’t know what it means to be God’s children.
We are all poor.
A lack of stuff is just one symptom of poverty. If all we’re treating is the symptoms, the disease will never go away. And when I refuse to admit that I, too, am poor, my best attempts to help will only make matters worse.
I may have lots of stuff, but arrogance in my approach to poverty alleviation is a symptom of my own poverty. When I place my identity in the things I own rather than Christ, it is evidence of a broken relationship with God. When I let those things tell me that I am better than someone else, I see evidence of broken relationships with the people around me.
Yes, there is a difference between me and people who have less than I do. They wear evidence of their broken relationships where everyone can see it. I wear mine where it can be covered up with nice clothes, fancy gadgets, and a smiling face on social media.
Maybe I don't have the advantage I thought I did.
The ones I’m so quick to disregard have more to bring to the table than I can possibly imagine. Jesus knew what He was doing when He paid special attention to the poor and the marginalized. This isn't about wallowing in our brokenness. It's not about focusing on things that might keep us from serving. Understanding true poverty is about leveling the playing field and valuing the very ones we want to help
We belong to Jesus’s kingdom. That means living differently. It means being honest about our own poverty and valuing the people He values.
They are not a problem to solve, but the face of Jesus among us.
For more on this definition of poverty, please see this video [Good Intentions are Not Enough] from The Chalmers Center. When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, is also a fantastic resource!
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/27096230 w=500&h=281]