When you are poor, you feel incompetent. You are told to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but if you were capable of that, how did you end up poor? You feel incredibly weak as you see so many others so strong and successful.
You feel incapable. You feel like you can’t do what millions around you are already doing – being successful.
You feel inferior. Those millions of successful people who surround you are living the American Dream. Many of those millions believe that the American Dream is real. Their favorite athletes and entertainment stars remind them daily that everyone can live the Dream – just believe in yourself enough and you can do and be anything! The question then becomes, what is wrong with you if you can’t live the Dream?
You feel unlovable. People you thought were friends disappear. Many are ashamed of you and at times are ashamed to be with you. When people do talk to you, they treat you as a charity case to be pitied rather than a friend to be valued. (See “you feel inferior.”) Thank the Lord for the true friends who sometimes appear out of nowhere to truly be a support. It is surprising to see friends fall away, but it is even more surprising to see true friends rise up.
You feel like you have no choice. After all, beggars can’t be choosers. When people are in the position of offering you help, there is often a sense of superiority that arises on their part. And to get their help, you better listen and do everything they say or help in the future may be out of the question. You must accept any job, any place to live, any schedule forced on you, or you look very ungrateful.
You feel blamed. Just as most in America hold to some form of the American Dream, most Christians have a little “prosperity doctrine” in them. In other words, people wonder what you must have done to cut off God’s blessing from your life. Don’t faithful children experience the Father’s love and provision? What did you do?
You feel like you must share your story with anyone who asks. You share your story of failure constantly as you appeal to churches and agencies for help. Everyone has questions to ask and forms to fill out. Many times, you have to provide proof of income (a record of your failure on paper for all to see) to get a loaf of bread. Even if you don’t want to ask for help, you are forced to. You lose all privacy and dignity.
You lose all respect and integrity. As you share your story, people are automatically suspicious of you. The assumption is from the beginning, you are trying to take advantage of their generosity.
You feel dumb. Those offering help sometimes treat you this way, acting like they need to school you in all kinds of matters, mostly unrelated to why you are poor. Everyone you talk to feels like they have the right to offer you advice (and you better listen!). You feel like you always have to listen to those who are in a position to offer you help. And you quickly learn that there are always strings attached to gifts. There truly is no such thing as a free lunch.
In summary, when you are poor, you feel inhuman. Subhuman. Like you are a different species. There is nothing so dehumanizing as being poor – other than being extremely rich.
When you don’t feel human anymore, you feel isolated from humans. You become utterly desperate and do anything to survive. You start acting like the animal you are. You don’t enjoy what humans enjoy. Sunsets don’t take your breath away because you constantly feel like you’ve been socked in the gut and are unable to breathe. Music doesn’t lift your soul to another plane. Food loses its flavor. Laughter doesn’t come naturally.
I have one request as you read this: as you help the poor out of the goodness of your heart because our Father reached out and helped you when you didn’t deserve it, please do this one simple thing – treat those you are loving as fellow human beings made in the image of God, just like you.