I am hungry, I told my older brother Sterling. We were just kids, I think maybe 8 or 10 years of age. Sterling was always ready with a quick retort to my complaining. He replied, ‘ you ain’t hungry! You just ready to eat!’ His wisdom from those many years ago comes to mind whenever I have the notion to complain.
As much as I try to be empathetic with the poor, I fail at it. I don’t have any idea what the poor really feel because I have never truly been impoverished. I have always had a way of accomplishing or acquiring what I felt was necessary for life and to indulge in unnecessary pleasures. It became even more difficult as I have got older and completed my education and professional training, I don’t know what it is to need things. I only know how to want, how to be ready to eat. If I don’t have it immediately available in my overstuffed closets, garage, outside storage shed, basement, cabinet, cupboard, refrigerator or upright freezer, I can always purchase it.
If the local retailer is closed, I can use my credit or debit card to have my desired object sent to my home within a few hours or days. If I desire something to eat, other than what is already canned, frozen, or dried within my household store of abundance, I simply open my phone, laptop or other smart device and literally within minutes, I can satisfy my desires. These realities limit my empathy with the poor. I have access to excess. Most Americans would tell me this is success. That is by having access to excess I have success.
I have a good paying job. I have sufficient funds in my bank, my retirement account and savings account. I have health care, dental, eye care insurances. I have car, house and life insurance. Even my car and house insurances offer me life and health insurance. This absurdity means that I have insurance within my insurances. It makes it near impossible to have empathy with the poor.
I can open any one of my 5 closets and find sufficient items to clothe a small village. I have enough socks and shoes to protect the feet of a family of ten. I have enough toiletry items, including soap, shampoo, deodorant, lotion, colognes toothpaste and toothbrushes to provide personal hygiene for dozens of people living on the streets. By most American standards, this is success. I complain about the high price of gas as I fill the tanks on both of our cars and even the rental car I needed during the interval of car repair.
Success is defined as having access to excess. That doesn’t mean I can afford what I acquire or even need it. After all, that is why I have a credit card. That is why I have larger belts, looser pants and bigger shirts to accommodate my growing girth. That is why I have enough exercise equipment, gym membership, bicycles to equip a small gymnasium. I am not hungry. I am just ready to eat. This version of success leads me to less empathy, less charity to those who truly live in poverty.
Poverty is a lack of options. Scenarios like, he would like to send his children to a safer school, but they live in an underfunded district. They would like to find some place to hide, but the soldiers are bombing their village. She would like to take that new job, but she can’t afford the bus fare across the two districts and there is gang violence in the streets. She would like to get out of this abusive relationship, but she needs the money he provides for their children. They have no options.
I have no idea how they feel, no matter how desperate and sometimes unhealthy they appear on one of my three television screens. I am insensitive because of my success, demonstrated by my access to excess. Lord, please help me to develop true hunger for the things which matter, most importantly providing for those who have too little while I have too much. Don’t let me just be ready to eat. Give me a hunger for righteousness and justice for those who are truly in need.
Luke 3:11 Jesus said “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”