An acquaintance came by to collect a small order at my shop and I asked him how his family was doing. He answered, “OK, except poor.”
Tell me about it.
Sometimes troubles travel in packs. They surround our lives like a bunch of wolves moving in for the kill, chilling the bones with howling threats. For our family, those troubles have taken the form of a leaking roof (showering the girl’s closet whenever it rains), corroding water pipes (that urgently need to be replaced before we hit a second crisis), a malfunctioning sump pump (creating a pond beneath our house), and a refrigerator with shelves cracking to pieces five years after buying it brand new—all during a time when work (and the money associated with it) is as scarce as diamonds in a gravel pit.
Yes, I think I know something of what my friend meant when he said his family was, “OK, except poor.”
I walked him back to his vehicle and found to my surprise he drove a muscular late-model pick-up with low-profile tires and shiny paint.
“Wish I was poor like him.”
I know that there are different definitions of “poor” depending on who you talk to and where they live. A poor American is unlikely to be as in the same situation as a poor Togolese. We rate “poor” based on the group we associate with—or to which we want to belong.
But somehow I was still shocked by this definition of poor. And I realized that my nature—our natures—rebel against the truth of the well-worn maxim, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
However low we're brought, we want to retain the right to hold onto things that are dearest, to choose our own style of poverty. I don’t know what the truck meant to that man. I don’t know if he was holding onto a vestige of self-respect from better times, or if he couldn’t unload it for what it was worth or. . . . But I can imagine being in his shoes and clinging—for dear life—to a luxury that I consider essential.
Real poverty surrenders even the right to choose.
I’m beginning to understand this in a new way lately as I wrestle with the question of what to do when there is no work—which means no income stream—which means something has to change.
I’m now considering the possibility of going to work for an employer after years of being my own boss. And last night in the quiet hours of darkness I meandered down my everyday paths of routine or pleasure and realized that a change in employment would change them all. I’ve gotten used to a certain variety of poverty and most of the time I am OK with it. So it is hard to think about giving up the right to choose to take an extended lunch to walk in the garden with my wife, or the right work until nightfall and then take a nap during the day, or the right to run errands whenever I like, or . . .
Don’t misunderstand: Owning our own struggling business has not been a cakewalk. I could write a book on the loneliness of being both president and janitor, on the crushing weight of being fully responsible for every decision, on the weariness of being the only one to do the work when there is work to do, and the agony of being the only one to blame when there isn’t.
But for all the challenges, I love the privilege of choosing, a freedom that would be curtailed in entering the regular work force.
Paul said of Jesus, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). In Jesus’ determination to pour out the riches of grace on us, He subjected Himself absolutely to the will of the Father. He gave up the right to choose His kind of poverty, and experienced what ordinary men and women have known since the day that Adam ate the forbidden fruit. He knew temptation and weariness and—in His final hours—the pain and suffering of a cruel death and separation from the love of the Father.
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).
Did Jesus want to go through the torture of the coming hours? Not in His flesh. In His humanity, He would like to have found another way to fulfill His Father’s will; but He surrendered even this choice to Him.
I don’t know what lies around the corner or how it will really impact life as I have loved it. I don’t know exactly what the will of God will look like or how I will feel about doing it. But I do know that I won’t get to choose my own destiny or the process by which I arrive at it.
Mine is not the right to choose my own poverty
but to surrender the choice to God.
God always gives His best
to those who leave the choice with Him.
© Robert G. Robbins