Poor Indeed

Have you ever been poor? More than broke, more than bankrupt, more than desperate…have you ever had nothing? Where you had nothing and nobody to call your own? No where to turn? Completely and utterly destitute?

I haven't. I have never wanted materially. Not once.

I have a hard time even conceiving of it. Born with middle class American privileges: education, food, opportunities. I've never lacked for the basics, and I've often had way more than enough. I've been through some temporary rough patches, but nothing a little elbow grease and bootstrapping couldn't fix.

I hesitate to even write this, because I don't want to sound like I know what I'm talking about. 'Cause I don't know anything.

I can't do anything right.

I don't know how to live like God wants me to live.

I don't know how to stop doing the things God's Word says not to do.

I don't know how to do the things God's Word says to do.

I don't know how my own inner voice works anymore.

I don't know how to stop second guessing myself.

I'm walking around and I'm doing my job and I'm taking care of my kids, but I don't know how to do any of it without offending God. It's unbearable. It's paralyzing. It's horrifying. I've been shaking. I've been queasy. I've felt ominous clouds rolling over my skies. And there is no way I can fix it. I cannot live right at all. There's no way out.

Forgive me if you know what's coming. I didn't.

I was trolling along aimlessly through blogs, feeling so bewildered when I encountered this verse (that I of course have seen before but never understood) in a blog at reallivepreacher.com: Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3 NIV). In the comments, rlp says:

The classic interpretation of this is that Spiritual Poverty is the state in which you understand that you are unable by the force of your own will, to live your life in ways that are spiritually healthy. This is VERY much like the first step in AA when a person admits he is powerless over alcohol.

Many of us believe in living in certain ways, and then are unable or unwilling or unprepared or whatever to do so. Christian spirituality begins with an admission of that fact. That's what I think Jesus is getting at.

So that's what this feeling is. Being poor. It's ugly. It hurts. It doesn't feel blessed at all.

And yet, to know that every teeny tiny thing I have, even this glimmer of understanding, is something He has given to me is remarkable.  

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Poor Indeed

  1. So that’s what this feeling is. Being poor. It’s ugly. It hurts. It doesn’t feel blessed at all.

    No, it doesn’t.

    Many of the “blessed” things in the Sermont on the Mount aren’t very “blessed”-sounding: mourning (including wailing, inconsolable sobbing), hunger and thirst for anything resembling justice (from a parched land lacking it), insults, and persecutions…

    I’ve heard that the word “blessed” there is best translated as “happy”. Again, probably not referring to one’s immeidate visceral reaction, but rather a judgement from one who takes a long term view.

    When we “invest” in a stock or bond, we give up money and things we could have done with it now. Owning a piece of paper isn’t nearly as “happy” as, say, a trip to New Zealand. But in the end, you might be able to take two or three such trips, or be able to help someone in a deep way.

    From one who had suffered many hardships:

    “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)

    Of course, some are recorded as letting this long-term view impact them even now; thus we see almost a perverse reaction to persecution here:

    “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:40-41)

    Some context from the sometimes-useful Wikipedia:

    “In the Roman Empire, flagellation was often used as a prelude to crucifixion and, in this context, is sometimes referred to as scourging. Whips with small pieces of metal or bone at the tips were commonly used. Such a device was easily able to cause disfigurement and serious trauma, such as ripping pieces of flesh from the body or loss of an eye. In addition to causing severe pain, the victim would be made to approach a state of hypovolemic shock, due to loss of blood.”

    We’re such wimps.

  2. Oh, a final quote from C.S. Lewis, as highlighted by Charles Colson in “Being the Body”:

    I didn’t go to religion to make me happy.
    I always knew a bottle of port would do that.
    If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable,
    I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

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