The treasure of poverty
For a while there, I only owned one piece of furniture. It's that chair pictured above. The bean bag chair was borrowed. (Does a bean bag chair count as furniture?) For the first week or two in my new apartment, I was sleeping on an air mattress, using the wooden end of a knife to scramble eggs, and rifling through my suitcase to find clothes in the morning.
I loved it.
But of course, it wasn't a sustainable way to live, and the delightful novelty was beginning to wear off. So I sent an email to a few dozen friends. I'm writing because I am in need, began my bold request. Soon, the offers started streaming in and, less than two weeks later, my apartment was entirely outfitted. A couch and rug, table and chairs, dresser and desk and so much more made its way to me through kind friends and even strangers. Suddenly, my apartment has become this patchwork place, filled with love in the form of furniture. Often, as I'm having breakfast in the morning, I'll slowly scan the room and let my eyes move from thing to thing, calling to mind the person it came from. Cathy, Carolyn, Jessica, Holly and Daniel..It's a marvel to see how God has provided for me through so many dear friends.
There has been room for Him to provide, and room in my heart to ask in confidence and accept in gratitude, because of my poverty. And before I pressed send on that email a few weeks ago, my poverty was hidden away, tucked within the bare walls of my new apartment, shared with a friend or two who could laugh with me at my simple living. But I reached a point when I couldn't ignore my need, when the emptiness caught up to me, when God was waiting to bless me anew, and bless those I'd turn to for help.
Of course, I wasn't living in poverty in the typical sense. No, my life is nothing like that of the men scattered about the park blocks away from my home, sleeping on benches or sidewalk grates, guarding their carts full of their worldly possessions. I can't possibly begin to compare my experience to theirs. I come across them so often as I walk through my neighborhood, and while the sight of them pains my heart deeply, there's a strange kinship I feel with them, too. In fact, they unwittingly helped me to build up the courage to let myself be seen, to let my neediness be known.
I'm not struggling to stay alive on a street corner, begging for food, thank God, but aren't I, aren't we all, just as poor, deep down? Even if we haven't suffered serious trauma or don't find ourselves in the snares of mental illness or didn't lose our every last possession in some tragic way, aren't we just as dependent as those who have? Just as much at the mercy of God?
When I think of those men who are shivering outside as I sit on my couch in my warm, safe, peaceful apartment, it feels like a scandal to call poverty a treasure. Like a slap in the face to those who suffer material poverty in a way I never have and likely never will. But that is the word that has come back to me, over and over, as I've reflected on this season of need I've found myself in for months now. I can't shake it.
The thing is, Jesus Himself chose to live in poverty. He didn't scorn it, didn't avoid it, didn't think Himself above it. Rather, He embraced it and lived a life in radical dependence on the Father. He was accompanied, Luke tells us, by his apostles and by many others who provided for them out of their resources. He didn't just depend on the Father, He depended on mere men and women whom He had had a hand in creating. If He chose a life of human dependence for Himself, how could I expect anything different for my own life? Why would I want anything different?
My apartment may be full now, but it doesn't take much self-reflection to recognize that my need is just as great as it was a few weeks ago. Still I need mercy and compassion and love, still I depend on God for my daily bread and on friends who enrich my life. Still I look ahead to heaven, where my true treasure lies, and remember that the earthly treasures I can see are, in the end, worthless.
My passing physical poverty—however minor it was—shone a piercing light upon the spiritual poverty of my soul. And if it can help me become more like Jesus? If it can move me to be generous to the poor who I pass every day? If it can prepare me for my true, lasting home of heaven? Then it is a treasure indeed.