When God’s People Get Tired of “the Poor”

The woman was tired. I get that. I’ve been that tired.

I arrived at the church office incognito. Not really, but I introduced myself in my role as a facilitator of my day job with a community agency, not as a fellow Christian. The church has programs to help the poor in their area, and I had one of them with me (one of the poor, I mean), waiting on the sidewalk, too nervous to come into the office herself “lest lightning strike.”

Smiling, I stated the reason for our visit was to introduce the woman to the needs ministry at the church and to inquire about the hours they met with new people. The woman behind the counter frowned and sighed. “Frankly, we’re tired of you agency people thinking the church is the answer for every poor person within a twenty-mile radius. Don’t you have any other answers for her?”

I inhaled deeply. This is the new strategy I’m employing to process intense stress.

I waved at my anxious client peeking in the window. I hoped I appeared relaxed. I gave her the signal that it would be just another minute. Then I turned back to my weary sister in Christ, as I texted my boss that for the next 15 minutes, I was officially taking myself “off the clock.”

“Hi,” I said to the woman. “What’s your name? Mine is Lori. I’m going to take a moment to step out of my role as someone employed to help families. For the next couple of minutes, I’m just going to be another Christian who loves Jesus. I hope that’s all right with you.”

She looked wary, but nodded.

“I imagine you’re having a really stressful day. And, because Jesus loves you, I’m standing here, and not someone He’s trying to reach with the gospel. Not one of my colleagues, many of whom are extremely cynical about engaging with the faith community for support. Not my client who truly has no other place to turn, so she’s willing to turn to Jesus, even though she thinks He probably hates her. Not my client who has run through every government program available, and still has hungry, needy children. Not my client who I had hoped would not only receive some support here, but also feel loved by God today.”

The woman drooped a little. “I’m so sorry. I’m recovering from news of tragedy with one of our members, and I’m not handling it well.”

That’s the moment I thanked Jesus for reminding me to show her as much mercy as I wanted her to show my poor client – as much as He shows me. He has shown us that anger is often the hasty armor we toss on over hurt or battle fatigue. While impervious to equal anger, it often has no defense against a soft word.

“That’s awful and I’m so sorry for that news. Let’s talk for a moment and let you catch your breath. I imagine you do feel dumped on sometimes. This ministry is relentless. I bet, though, that most days, you agree that when family, government, and the rest of the world abandon someone, Jesus wants to be the One still there for them. That’s why I’m here with my client and why others turn to you, too. I’m sorry we aren’t expressing appreciation for all you do.”

She laughed. “Thank you for understanding. I’m sorry for my short words. Maybe you could bring your client in now. I believe I’m ready to care for her.”

We all grow weary. All of us, except Jesus. There have been days I needed someone to have this same chat with me. Our Heavenly Father “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” He has infinite resources, patience, and stamina when seeking His lost sheep, but His sheep run out of steam sometimes.

And lately we beat one another up over social media. One group chastising Christians with one political stance because they believe that stance will hurt the poor. Another group chastising THAT group as irresponsible stewards because of THEIR political stand.

Craziness. How easily we stumble into the snare set for us by our enemy!

It is our responsibility, as disciples of Jesus, to care for the poor. Absolutely. But, many of us have learned that “the poor” are not all alike. “The poor” take different roads to poverty and, make no mistake, there are as many different types of “poor” as there are different types of people. There are also different approaches to working with the poor, any number of which, can reflect Jesus.

Some believers are called to advocate for government programs or systems that are just and provide care for those who are in need. Others are called to work face-to-face with poor in other countries. Others called to be hands-on and personal with the poor in the next neighborhood. Some are called simply to provide resources for the work.

None of us is called to name-calling and publicly bashing one another. That’s just shameful. If we disagree with one another, there are biblical ways to work through those differences and there’s no caveat for abandoning those processes on social media or during news interviews.

Caring for the poor is a work that is as much for those who do it as it is for the poor. It reveals us. It instructs us. It humbles us. It’s not as much about solving the problem of poverty as it is about being in an impossible situation alongside another human the way Jesus is here with us.

It can create in us deeper compassion and greater wisdom. It can show us the power of Jesus’ ministry of mercy. It often brings us to the brink of our limitations, precisely so we can witness the miracle of Jesus’ limitless availability to us all.

But, it can also break our hearts, wear us down, and make us vulnerable to division if we’re not on guard against our enemy’s schemes.

Before we speak, judge, call names, label, tweet, email, blog, debate, rebut, or update our status, let’s inhale the aroma of Christ and exhale our personal agendas for the sake of unity. Let’s remember we all grow weary. Have limits. Stumble.

Let’s remember we all have a part of an impossible job – to care for the poor who will always be with us. And let’s consider that our words to one another carry power to tear down or to build up.

Let’s build.

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6 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. I love this, it’s so true. There are as many variances of “poor” as there are people, we need to remember each person’s situation is different. Unfortunately, we live in a one-size-fits-all world and it’s heartbreaking.

  2. Marge says:

    Lori, you are such a gifted writer. Your messages touch my heart at the right time. Thank you.

  3. Melanie Gibson says:

    Inhaling deeply when another Christian brother or sister falls short of the glory is a good strategy. Lord knows, I’ve done both of them many times. I’ve also tried several medications that had side effects like headaches and nausea, which aren’t visible but make you feel like crap all the time, so I’ve learned to use that as another mental strategy aside from wondering if the person just had some bad news. None of us is perfect; I’m sure I’ve had my moments when I’ve totally irritated others and not been aware of it. I also find myself in the situation of dealing with public agencies quite often, and those workers are always so busy that I feel like I have to give them some leeway if they rub me the wrong way. They are just trying to help, after all.

  4. Pam Halter says:

    THIS. SO MUCH THIS!

    What I’ve found in the almost 26 years of working to feed the hungry in three different church’s neighborhoods (not all at the same time – I’m talking the churches I’ve attended over the years), I find the most disheartening thing are the people who simply don’t appreciate it. The people who feel entitled. Who have boldly announced this wasn’t what they were expecting. They were expecting MORE. One woman who came to get her Thanksgiving meal objected when I handed her a chicken with her bag of food. I explained since it was just her and a 5-year-old child, she got a chicken. We gave the turkeys to the families with several children. “A chicken!” she exclaimed. “Where’s my turkey? I could have bought my own chicken!”

    I snatched it out of her hands and said, “Then why are you here getting free food??”

    She said, “I’ll take the chicken.” And I handed it back and she walked out the door and got into a BRAND NEW Cadillac.

    It’s easy to see why God’s people get tired of “the poor”. But I’m thankful for the deep breaths you mentioned and I try to do the same thing. ((hugs))

    • In my years, I’ve yet to encounter the Cadillac people, but I’ve met entitled people with and without money. It can be disheartening, and God has a biblically expressed distaste for ingratitude, but sin is always unattractive – no matter what the economics. We are called to serve.

  5. Pam Halter says:

    Yep – and then there are the people who you know what you’ve given them is all they have. Like for Christmas. I used to get names of families with special needs children who were in need and I’d give out the info and people at church would bring stuff and I’d deliver them. We gave food and gifts. One family, when I went, wasn’t home except for the grandmother. There was not a thing in their living room that remotely resembled Christmas or any evidence of gifts. Not much of anything. She didn’t speak English. But she hugged me SO HARD I could hardly breathe. And she wept and kept talking to me in Spanish, which I had no idea what she said, but I’m pretty sure she was thanking me and blessing me. Because I cried with her. And I left feeling so very blessed. THAT makes it all worth it. 🙂