I recently posted a statistic on my facebook page that really struck me. The end of the quote said:
“Despite continuing to rank as one of the richest countries in the OECD, behind only Norway, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is roughly on par with Mexico when it comes to childhood poverty.”
I was shocked. Shocked at how we can be one of the wealthiest nations in the world while maintaining such an incredible rate of childhood poverty. Shocked by the incredible disproportion of wealth within this nation.
But what surprised me even more was the response I received from posting this quote. I was touched by the sincere discussion that followed in the comments. So many joined the conversation with a resounding, “What do we do???”. One woman even expressed feeling overwhelmed and powerless when faced with statistics like this one. I realized that I also feel powerless when I read quotes like this. I actually feel powerless quite often as I spend my time researching numbers rooted in all of the difficult outcomes associated with poverty.
And so the question becomes, “What can we do?”. Or even more so, “what can I do??”.
I love the people who ask that question. Isn’t that the first step? Realizing that these things, these numbers aren’t just numbers, but rather something…someONEs…that are worth us thinking about?
In this post, I wanted to give a few ideas on what we might do when faced with the overwhelming disparity and poverty that exists in this world. This is not an exhaustive list, and I am guessing there are far better lists out there (please share your own ideas in the comments below!), but these are ideas that I cling to as I try to answer this question for myself.
1. Do something. Anything.
You probably all know the story of the starfish. There are many variations, but the general idea is that a young boy spends his morning throwing starfish, one by one, back into the ocean. An older gentlemen walks up and questions him. As the man looks at the thousands of starfish on the beach, he turns to the boy and asks, “How can you possibly make a difference?”. The boy picks up another starfish, flings it back to the safety of the ocean and replies, “I made a difference to that one.”.
You don’t have to save everyone. You don’t have to change policies or rewrite laws. But you can make a difference to the cashier you see every week, the child who lives next door, the man on the corner. You can “see” them. You can talk to them. You can learn who they are. It is amazing the amount of need that exists in our own backyards. Just by being kind directly to the person in front of us, we can “make a difference to that one”.
2. Make service as important to your kids as sports…
…Or music. Or whatever else they naturally love. Raise a child who understands that this world cannot afford any one of us to live only for ourselves. They have too much to offer to use their talents and time only on themselves. And if they can somehow use those talents to serve those around them..that seems like the best possible outcome!
3. Don’t “glean to the edge of your fields”.
There is a law in the Old Testament where God commands the Israelites not to harvest everything they grow, to leave a little so those in need can come to their fields and find the extra. Don’t use up every moment of your time, your emotional energy, or even your money on yourself and your own family. Being a mother of a child with a chronic illness, I understand seasons of exhaustion and even seasons of needing to harvest a little strength from someone else’s “field”. But overall, try and leave a little time in your schedule, a little extra in your heart and little wiggle room in your budget for those who might pop up unexpectedly, for those who might wander into your “field” needing a shoulder and/or a little extra support.
4.Learn what the actual needs are in your community.
Every community, city, and even church, has dozens of opportunities for us to serve, for us to “see”, for us to place ourselves in the heart of others. Practically, you can google, “homeless shelter” , “rehab centers”, “refugees” or any other area that might be on your heart and find a dozen opportunities. I would suggest not assuming you know the needs, but rather calling an organization that captures your eye and asking what DO they need.
There are so many references in the Bible to individuals who offered the very little that they had and God turning it into exactly what was needed and SO MUCH MORE (I love this post by a dear friend of mine). It honestly seems to be one of the things He LOVES to do. One of my favorite verses in the bible is in Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin”. Whatever, however, you can find to love someone else, just do something. Trust that it will make a difference to “that” one, and that God rejoices to see the work begin.
A few extra thoughts
At different times in my life, I have been able to serve in different capacities. The same might be true for you. You may need to identify what is possible for whatever season you are currently in. When the kids were young, we LOVED doing Meals on Wheels. We built many special relationships over those years. When the kids entered school full time, it opened up the opportunity for me to train and serve as a Child Advocate in the court system. The two experiences were so very different, but each one carried with it so many opportunities to love others.
And finally, I hope that no one devalues taking care of loved ones as an act of service. So often I talk to women who feel guilty because they are not out serving the community while I watch them spend hours caring for their elderly parents, grandparents or a special needs child. I cannot EVER imagine God being disappointed with love being demonstrated in that way.