The Rich Will be Poor & the Poor Will Be Rich.
I wrote this entry in my journal a few months ago. I was in a place of feeling heavy, guilty, sad, conflicted –– just a whole amalgamation of feelings really. But after getting this out, I felt free. I wasn’t sure I would share this with anyone, but now that I don’t feel as icky as when I wrote it, I thought maybe I’d let it go (& if you read my post about the white saviour complex, you may find pieces I ended up using in that blog as well). It’s not easy to be this vulnerable, but let’s give it a shot:
My mind goes to battle most days –
darting here, darting there; thinking, dissecting, deconstructing. If I’m lucky, a piercing truth will quiet my thoughts for a while. But it is a constant struggle ––albeit not necessarily the bad kind. This here, has been one of my latest battles:
I grew up in a home bigger than most people I know. We were well travelled, had rich life experiences, and typically were the only christians among our school friends. I felt pride in our big, beautiful home. I felt proud of my experiences and my choices. I thought perhaps it said something about who I was or where I came from. We were showered with love and abundance. It’s not that we would always get whatever we wanted; we rarely received allowance for extra things and I was encouraged to get a job as early as I could. If we asked for cash for something like a concert, it was almost always received with an eyebrow raise and a reluctant sigh. So, my sisters and I didn’t grow up assuming we would just get whatever we demanded, however –we did have hardwood floors, a granite countertop and a pool in the backyard that could easily spotlight on the cover of a house and home magazine. There were also those years spent living and travelling in Europe. I knew not to take it for granted. My years of travel showed me that people all over the world lived differently. I was encouraged by my parents, my dad in particular, to make friends with peers who had different upbringings than I did. On many fronts, I felt as though I was a cultured, compassionate and understanding individual. I was also “blessed”.
...Or was it privileged?
It’s taken many years and various experiences to reveal to me the ways in which, in all that time, I was actually also poor. To reveal that, although I can praise God for my blessings, I shouldn’t equate my privileges with "the favour of the Lord". The ways in which I had it so, so wrong. It gives my brain a workout each time a new thought or belief is deconstructed. These days, it feels like a new brick is crumbling down every week.
You see, right now, as I write this, Tim and I are living in a rental house in a low income neighbourhood. The other week, we LITERALLY had squirrels claw their way into our living room. I'm not kidding. I mean - that was a horrifying and bizarrely uncommon occurrence (and enough for me to alter my opinion about animal cruelty towards squirrels), but it had me saying, not for the first time, "WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?!?"
For the entirety of our married lives (coming up to 9 years this summer - WHAT?!), Tim and I have had money come in, and money go out. I’ve been a student and a stay-at-home mum, and we’ve made some hefty financial sacrifices to accommodate for the lifestyle we've chosen. I also happened to fall in love with a fellow 'creative'. Neither of us have ever had a passion for business or the ambition to make a lot of money; and while that's something we really love about one another, it definitely doesn't make things easy. We don’t expect it to always be this way, but for now, & as far as western standards go, we are probably considered 'lower income'.
I haven’t quite reconciled yet whether our expensive taste for good quality clothing or organic food is something to embrace or be embarrassed of. Are we principled? Or perhaps its because we both grew up in single family homes with manicured lawns and pools, that we’re in denial? Perhaps its because there are "rich" people living inside our "poor" frames. Most of our friends have more money than we do. I grew up having the biggest home of just about anyone I knew, and now, my friends are on to buying their second or third homes; moving up the ladder of the American dream, while we seem to be moving down it.
Sometimes, I really struggle with it.
I remember as a young child, drawing what my future mansion would look like; fitted with indoor pools and en-suites in all five bedrooms. It wasn't a matter of IF, but WHEN I would have my mansion. I would glue-stick magazine cutouts of my favourite duvet covers or wooden bookshelves into my journals. It has taken many years for these ideas to crumble down. Sometimes, it has been humiliating – like the time we lost our first home because we were both premature money managers, and couldn’t always handle paying bills on time. We let our debt and unnecessary interest spiral and swallow us up. How financially, as those around us were moving forward, we were moving backward. How our five year plan to owning our dream home in the country was thrown out the window in an instant. Our effort to look like the rich, young, and fashionable people we felt we were on the inside, was getting harder; the ruse was exhausting.
But as life has gone on, as we’ve continued to struggle financially, our souls have been getting richer. Yes, we made money mistakes in the past. Yes, we’ve learned and grown up majorly since. Yes, being in an international adoption process is a financial game changer. Yes, we still desire that home in the country… but as brick after brick have fallen down in my mind, a beautiful garden is being revealed. It’s not constructed or construed - it’s just there, growing wild and free.
The first time I went to Uganda, it took no time at all to reveal that I had next to nothing to offer. I was certainly NO gift to the world, let alone to a people or culture group that I was a foreigner to. How could I possibly? With all of that white suburban head knowledge in my pocket? With the faith that I had? Wait, no – most people I met had the same faith. The same God. They were the ones teaching ME the lessons. Giving ME the framework for this big gap I was missing.
I wanted to see hope and change and miracles in front of me - God answering prayers and providing finances - in the way I expected him to. What I saw instead was pain and hardship. I did see hope as well, but it wasn’t in the way I expected. I saw beauty, not because of the "gospel of prosperity" or prayers always answered, but because of gratitude and empathy. Because of friendship and family. Because of faith. Because of small prayers being answered. Because of love. My brain was so confused. This was the blessing of God, but it was out of my paradigm. I had heard so many testimonies at my church in Canada of God providing money and clothes and blessings. This was the "favour of the Lord" surely. Why was I not seeing similar testimonies in Uganda? Certainly God was equally present in Uganda as he was back home. My brain hurt. My idea of who God was needed to expand.
The first time I went and lived in Uganda for three months, I made friends with some nannies at the babies home I volunteered at. I asked questions and I listened. I had nothing to say. The more I listened, the more my friendships grew, the smaller the divide between “me” and “them” became. Listening has a way of doing that. Friendship has a way of doing that. You start to realize that you have more in common than you do different, and that money is no indicator of a person’s ability to feel or deserve a voice. You start to realize that the distance you've created between yourself and the "suffering" person on the news, has nothing to do with innate differences, and everything to do with the discomfort we feel at imagining that happening to us. We purposely construct this divide to protect ourselves from the heartache & call to action that can be experienced through true empathy.
And certainly, money is no indicator of whether a person is “blessed” or “highly favoured”. That outlook of God, I came to realize, was one of the most constricting boxes I could have placed him in. Except, I was actually the one in the box.
As my world view expanded, I realized how small it had been. I had travelled before, but not to third world countries. How could I create such sweeping views of God based upon my limited experiences and perspective in the western world? Especially when the MAJORITY of the world actually live in a state of poverty?
God is universal. He has no race, class, gender, political party, border line, income bracket, etc... Why do we keep trying to shove him into our containers? Why do we keep trying to make God look like us?
Fast forward to now. For the purpose of finding a place that would let us do a month to month rental in order to up and leave for Uganda at any time (yes... any tiiiiimeee nooowww would be NIIIICCEEEE...), we’ve wound up living in an area where we are over paying in rent and where half the people in the community are on government subsidies. We had no connection to this neighbourhood, had never been before we moved, and have been here already about one year longer than expected.
Recently, a handful of Syrian refugees have settled into the homes in our subdivision. I thought this was so cool, being very much in support of refugee immigration, and feeling like at some point in the future, I may end up doing work involving refugees. But, I caught myself the other day saying something to someone that left me ashamed, and I felt another brick fall down. “I feel as though living here has given me an opportunity to reach out to the refugee community”. As soon as I said it, and saw the familiar nod of approval that seemed to say “wow, what a good person you are”, I felt a stab of guilt. Ew. Who am I? How could I say such a thing?
The truth is, we are God’s gift to no one. The more starved my inner rich person becomes, the more I realize all I can offer is an ear. Not an answer, not money, not advice, not an offering of my white, rich, gift to the world self. The emptier I become, the more the wild garden in my mind is revealed. And actually, THAT’S when I think I do have more to give. Because I’m not offering some trumped-up, hand out. I’m just offering me. Stripped back and bare, and hoping that as the bricks come down, Jesus becomes more visible.
And that's not to mention the fact I often feel I'm receiving more from my neighbours than the other way around. I've been learning about parts of the world I've never been to, partaking in beautiful traditions, and my kids have been loved on, carried around, and cheek-squished more than I ever expected from a neighbour. We've really fallen in love with this community that is incredibly diverse, where children wander about, and everyone says hello. It actually reminds us a lot of Uganda. What started out as my sulky resistance has turned into a true gratefulness at the opportunity of living in this community (...STILL not grateful for those dang squirrels though - they're just plain mean!).
We don’t have more money than a lot of the people who live in this community. In fact, the rust on the back of the car we’re borrowing from my in-laws is a pretty good indication that we are no “better” than anyone who lives here. We don’t live here to further any agenda. We live here simply because it’s about all we can afford. When we go to Uganda, our white skin, unfortunately, means money. While we live here in Canada, in this neighbourhood, there’s no pretence. We DON’T have a lot of money, it’s in plain sight.
But my oh my, are we ever rich.
*I just wanted to make sure I clarify... I have NO issue with those who may be considered "rich" or more "well-off" than we are. I know when looking at world statistics, we are also considered 'wealthy'. Wealth is subjective - there will always be someone who has more than you, and always someone who has less. The fact we have a roof over our head and a consistent paycheque to bring in groceries and pay for bills is one strong indicator we're not really poor. The beef I DO have to pick however, is with the poor MENTALITY I used to have, that wealth can be equated with worth, favour, or blessedness. That's garbage thinking. It's not what Jesus exemplified. It's also not what my parents taught me. But it is the thought I unknowingly constructed in my limited perspective, perhaps with the help of some bad theology. I think I twisted the provisions I saw, living in a wealthy nation (that I am very thankful for), as being a blessing because of God's love for me/us. While we should always be grateful to God for what we have (or don't have), I can't then make a conclusion along the lines of "If God provides a mansion for that person, and then that other person dies of starvation... I know who God liked more". That's such shallow thinking (it's more like, "I know who happened to be born in a country that is privileged with opportunity"). And while I doubt anyone would outrightly make a statement like that, that's what we are doing when we limit our view of God's outpouring of love to financial "blessings". He's so much bigger than that.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6:20