Doug and I found ourselves sitting in our living room yesterday afternoon with some good friends from our church. They are a couple that has been on a journey of healing and restoration in both spiritual and very tangible physical ways. Since we have known them, there have been maybe a handful of times where they have not been in a place of desperate need. We have come alongside them in different ways to assist them and counsel them, to pray with them and feed them. Our hearts ache with longing for them to find a place of stability and provision, and we are practical in talking with them about the kinds of steps that could lead there.
There is a distinct temptation to grow tired of the chronically needy; to get “fed-up” with their inability to get their acts together; to tire of continually devoting your resources (or those of your church) to a situation that just never seems to really improve (or at least not by your definitions and judgments). I remember a while back when Doug was out of full-time work and we were in a fairly desperate situation there was a person in our church who said: I would be excited about suggesting that our church help you guys out for a little while, IF… and then they listed what we would have to do in their minds to “qualify” for the church’s generosity. So I speak on this from both sides: there are certainly times when I am the “fed-up” giver. But I have also sat on the other side, deep in desperation and need, unable to meet the expectations attached to someone’s gift.
In Bob Lupton’s book, Theirs is the Kingdom, he has an especially brutal chapter that addresses this titled: “The Truly Worthy Poor.” Let me just give an excerpt:
A truly worthy poor young woman: lives in public housing but only temporarily; has illegitimate children conceived prior to Christian conversion; is now celibate; tithes her welfare check and food stamps; is a high school dropout but manages well with limited resources; places a high value on education and nutrition for her children; walks everywhere (grocery store, church, school, welfare office) with her children to save bus fare and keeps her sparsely furnished home spotless; occasionally runs out of food by the end of the month but will not beg for “handouts.” Will not accept more than twenty-five dollars per month in help from friends even if her children are hungry because this violates welfare rules.
A truly worthy poor family: Is devout, close-knit. Has a responsible father working long hours at minimum wage wherever he can find work. Has a mother who makes the kids obey, washes clothes by hand, and will not buy any junk food. Lives in overcrowded housing; will not accept welfare or food stamps even when neither parent can find work. Always pays the bills on time; has no automobile. Has kids that do not whine or tell lies.
I want to serve truly worthy poor people. The problem is they are hard to find. Someone on our staff thought he remembered seeing one back in ’76 but can’t remember for sure. Someone else reminded me that maybe to be truly poor means to be prideless, impatient, manipulative, desperate, grasping at every straw, and clutching the immediate with little energy left for future plans. But truly worthy? Are any of us truly worthy?”