Several years ago, a friend asked if I’d pray that she would learn how to become poor.
I’ve prayed a lot of things for people—that cancer would be arrested, a surgery would be successful, someone would know the comfort of God while mired in grief, for troubled marriages and wayward children—but never that someone would learn how to be poor.
My friend is in her 70s. She worked as an addiction counselor after she kicked long-standing addictions herself. She managed her modest earnings well, but the day was coming when her savings would be depleted.
It is embarrassing to admit you are poor, or that you are even in the process of becoming poor. It is far easier not to admit it and keep it a secret.
A few months after her request, some women were around my kitchen table and one of the ladies said that she and her husband would like our friend to come live with them. It was a sincere offer, not one of those “I’m gonna ask you this, but I’m counting on you not to take me up on it” sort of offers.
Eyes filled with tears over the depth of kindness, but our friend said no, thank you, she needed to face reality.
There is much to be said for having the humility and courage to reckon with difficult circumstances.
Our friend had reckoned with another sort of poverty years before. It was the poverty of spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Those words appear counter-intuitive. Why would anyone be blessed to be poor in spirit? Because being honest about what we lack is often the beginning of finding out what it is that we need.
Spiritual poverty comes on a sliding scale, from a self-centeredness that quietly pushes our own agendas, annoying and irritating others, to an infiltrating poison that festers, mushrooms, exploits and abuses others, and can even grow cruel and diabolical.
Naturally, not wanting any of our deficiencies to be known, we hide this poverty of heart behind facades of having it all together.
Who, me? Poor? We’ve got two cars and a 401K.
Maybe, but “Insufficient Funds” could be stamped across every human heart.
Lent is when Christians reflect on our personal poverty. Holy Week is when we commemorate the path from spiritual poverty and brokenness to a new fullness of life by way of the cross, where Christ sacrificed for our every lack and reconciled us to God and one another.
Blessed are those with the humility and courage to acknowledge poverty of spirit.
My friend is now in subsidized housing for seniors. She has made a few friends, cooked meals for some who have been ill and drives her klunker car to visit a friend who was formerly homeless and now lives in a nearby nursing home.
My friend is not rich in material things, but she is among those celebrating what it means to be made rich in spirit. She’ll be wearing one of the biggest smiles come Easter morning.