I love to read. Books, blogs, news articles, the Bible, theology, history, sci fi, biographies, engineering, a novel here and there. So, doing what I love, I came across an article on Facebook earlier this week that was written in response to this Dave Ramsey post called “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day.”
Now, I don’t know much about Dave Ramsey except that he’s a financial guru whose advice is followed by a lot of churches, Bible study groups, and individual Christians. Fair enough. But I guess my attitude toward him has been tainted a bit by another article I read the other day, again through Facebook, written by a young woman named Linda Tirado called “This is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense.”
For those church-goers who lock up at the sight of “f-bombs”, be forewarned, she drops them with abandon throughout her article. But if you believe at all what James 1:27 says about pure religion and visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, Linda’s article should melt your heart. If it doesn’t…well, that’s quite a rock you’ve got there…
I had tears in my eyes when I read her honest, cut-to-the-quick description of a life of poverty. I don’t know if I fully appreciate the depths of despair she described, but I do know I have felt a similar sense of trapped-on-the-treadmill hopelessness, and have, at one time in my life, endured the disparaging looks and comments from those getting into their luxury cars, those sitting in (or aspiring, laser-focused, to sit in) the corner office, or even those in the church who say with their eyes, “You don’t measure up.”
When I read Dave Ramsey’s list of what percentage of the rich do something versus what a much smaller percentage of the poor do, I couldn’t help thinking his detached observations were like the writings of a research analyst examining the bodily functions of so many laboratory animals. This rat does this when you give it an electric shock right here, this other one does that. Hmmm, if I extrapolate that to a big enough sample size, I will get a standard deviation of 2.27. Clinical, devoid of emotion.
Takeaway number one: Poor people don’t do lists. Lists are a luxury, at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, up there in “self-actualization” territory. Poor people, as Linda Tirado so painfully explained, will live for the moment because there’s too often nothing to encourage them that the long term will be any better. They’re stuck at the bottom of the food, clothing, and shelter part of Maslow’s pyramid.
The blog that pointed me to Dave Ramsey’s list is called “Things Broke People Do.” The author, Caryn Rivadeniera, made some insightful observations about why God might want some of us to be broke, even if only for a season.
Her comments reminded me of something I’m seeing more and more in business writings such as Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “David and Goliath.” Great strength can come from weakness, great blessings from adversity. Caryn quoted several Bible verses that guide those of us who “have” in our dealings with those who “have not.” Linda Tirado, in the span of a week after her article went viral, has received over $50,000 and an offer of help to write a book. She wrote here, “I cannot find words to tell you how completely my life has turned around in the last week,” she said. “I am grateful for the opportunity. I will not waste it. Thank you, so much, for being a part of it, because I can do good things. And now I have the chance to. That means everything.”
Takeaway number two is this: Many people, complete strangers, were touched by this poor woman’s honesty and wanted to help. With cash, job offers, book offers, whatever they felt could lift her out of a life of hopeless despair. This doesn’t fit the “survival of the fittest” paradigm…we obtain something of greater value than money when we help each other confront and embrace adversity and grow through it, not to mention the old saw that “it’s better to give than to receive.”
As I thought about these three articles, I remembered times in my own life when someone has intervened with a $20 bill, a $100 check, a ride somewhere, a meal, a car tow home over a mountain, a place to stay for a few days, even a word of encouragement, little things that made a big difference. Many of us have heard stories where a stranger showed up and offered such difference-making help that it could have been an angel who took on human form.
But I also thought of a time many years ago when I was traveling on a summer tour with a Bible college singing group and we stopped for the night at a Motel 6 in Socorro, New Mexico. Several of us were outside talking when a young woman, obviously a hitchhiker from the nearby Interstate, came up and asked if she could sleep on the floor in our room. She called herself “Gypsy.” The name of our very specific religious denomination-sponsored college plastered all over our repurposed Greyhound bus, we had to say no. But we did offer to pray for her. She thanked us and went down the hall and knocked on several doors. One opened to a middle-aged man who, after a short conversation, let this woman in.
I don’t know what happened after that but, she being reasonably young and attractive, my imagination doesn’t have to run far. I never did forget what I felt at the moment she went in that room. We could have helped this woman with something real, not the prayer to “be ye warmed and filled” while we left her to the chance opportunism of some older guy away from home, away from anyone who might hold him accountable for what he might ask her to trade for a place to sleep. Not one of us thought to pool what little money we had to get her a room of her own for the night. You see, we had been taught to give ten percent of our money to the church and we had already, scrupulously, done that.
I am sorry, Gypsy. Please forgive me.
And so here it is, thirty-plus years later, the week of Thanksgiving, and I can’t park in front of the ATM near the Trader Joe’s on this Monday morning because the parking lot is already full. Many stores are going to be open on T-day because there are people who will stand in line all night to get $30 off a TV that was originally marked up by $30 in an agreement between the manufacturer and the store. Or get in fist fights with strangers to get their hands on the newest X-box. Matt Walsh, a refreshingly provocative young blogger, captured my sentiments about Christmas shopping in his recent article, “If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You’re Part of the Problem.”
My wife and I don’t do Black Friday. We don’t do Christmas. That’s right, no gifts, no tree, no lights. Yes, we are born-again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and readily confess He was born of a virgin, died on a cross for our sins, rose again to sit at the right hand of the Father, and is coming again soon to set up His Kingdom here on earth. But we decided years ago to stop with the holiday shopping hoopla that defines how Western Civilization loosely celebrates His birth. We decided it was too much hassle to figure out what to buy for people who really didn’t want what we got them and would then feel guilty and have to figure out what to buy us that we really didn’t want.
Some of our friends think we’re missing out because we aren’t playing the Christmas game. Whatever. We have more time to miss whatever it is we’re missing. We decided, instead of spending money on gifts that will end up on e-Bay or in an attic or garage sale by this time next year, to give it to those who’ve done work for us throughout the year. We decided to give to strangers at the grocery store or gas station, or pay it forward at the fast-food drive-through, buying the meal for those in the car behind us.
Before you tell me to stop breaking my arm patting myself on the back, I’ll loudly admit we don’t have kids, which is what most everyone tells me all this Christmas commercialism is really “for.” I know what we decided to do with Christmas isn’t much, and I know we could do a lot more. But I have seen the look in a worker’s or stranger’s eyes when they get an unexpected gift, no strings attached. And, through God’s guiding hand, we might with that small gift intervene in a person’s life in a way that makes a real difference. I like to think my wife or I could, possibly, be an angel, God’s messenger, to someone who really needs one.
To me, that’s the One Most Important Thing, at the top of any list. Especially the Christmas list.