See The Spirit Before The Life-Worn Face
I recently attended a Church-sponsored class on how to help the poor. My eyes were opened as to how difficult it really is to hold back judgment, or to offer help in a non-threatening, not demeaning way, and to even seek to love children of God who seem so different from me and my comfortable circle.
Think on this:
A teacher observes three siblings at school who never seem to bring a sack lunch from home, nor do they have any money to buy a hot lunch. After some investigating, the teacher learns that the family lives in poverty, struggling just to get by. There is no refrigerator in the home, so there is little food there at any given time. The sympathetic teacher decides to have a fundraiser, where money can be collected to buy this family a refrigerator of their own. That way, they will surely be able to store food for meals, and send food to school with the children. Other helpful people are enthusiastic over this brilliant idea and soon enough money is earned. A refrigerator is purchased and delivered to the home of this needy family.
A few weeks later the teacher sees these children come to school without any lunch. She asks one of them why they have no lunch pails. What answer do you think she receives?
- “It doesn’t work. We don’t always have electricity at our house.”
- “Momma sold it and we got to go visit our grandma. It’s been two years since we saw her last!”
- “Papa came back and took it. Said he owed a man some money.”
The answer could be all the above. What the teacher saw as helping a poor family wasn’t really taking care of their needs at all. It isn’t always the lack of money that leaves a family poor; it is more likely their poor way of thinking, feeling, and acting that keeps them in poverty.
We all live by hidden rules. It often defines us into our various families and classes.
Think about some of these hidden rules:
- A middle class mentality may be to look toward the future wanting to grow, achieve, and succeed.
- A poor class mentality tends to only be concerned with Now, surviving until the next paycheck, and immediate gratification.
- One family may traditionally meet together once a month to catch up with one another-no matter what-while another family is careful what they say around one another.
- Expectations for a son or daughter may be to seek after multiple opportunities, widening choices, ultimately choosing the best choice.
- A single mother may feel imprisoned by the present moment, figuring the future is in the hands of fate, which makes life hard and unpredictable.
Poor people often live in a Matriarchal household. Women are the martyrs and the rescuers while the men are the lovers and the fighters. While men often find themselves in and out of jail, the women will gather the children together and try to make it on their own.
How does the LDS Church help when a woman comes seeking welfare? This woman may have come from an abusive home and an abusive marriage. Everyone she knows may have abandoned her, but left her with a litter of children. The Church Handbook says that those seeking help should go to family first. For this poor woman, that isn’t an option. In fact, she has run out of options.
Yet, we must reach out and help in some way. Pres. Monson said,
We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness. …We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.(Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?” Ensign, Nov 2009)
It behooves us to learn various ways people think, empathetically seeking after the way that might help them in the best way. If we really are the Lord’s hands, then the way to help best will be given to us when we ask.
Here’s another eye-opening encounter:
Many poor people seem to always be searching for a place to stay. They may wander from place to place, finding a friend to stay with, moving on to another friend. Often a small apartment will be overcrowded because many friends will be staying for a while, before some of them move on. A small apartment, with a large number of people in it, lacks privacy and quiet, becoming a way of life for transients who are always moving on and passing by. Most of these apartments will have the latest in entertainment. Noise and music is a way of life, to avoid the quiet of a solitary life. Too many people needing background noise becomes acceptable, comfortable, and necessary.
Now, imagine a person, coming from this environment, sitting in the quiet of a bishop’s office. How much courage did it take to even consider going to see the bishop? How comfortable would it feel for this person to face the silence that seems to scream against the walls? Is there a hidden rule this person needs to interpret in this vulnerable place? It isn’t a question whether this person is worthy of help or not. The real question is how can these persons be reached to build trust that can bring them home to their Father in Heaven?
Sometimes we look at people and think, “Why don’t you get a job.” “Take care of yourself.” “Save money instead of wasting it.” “Look more presentable.” Don’t deny it; we’ve all had thoughts like that run through our heads at one time or another. What we don’t realize is there is a poor/lower way to think that is quite different from a middle class way of thinking. The question is, “Can one be taught to make better decisions?”
And how do you go about teaching new life rules without insulting the person you are trying to help?
The answer is that we need to stop judging people by how they look and act, and seek to discover the spirit of the person who still exists, but has been trampled down by life, and even bad choices. People can only help themselves, but we can open a door of trust, patience, and unconditional love that can help them rediscover their own potential in the eyes of the Lord.
Of course, we’ve seen people who know, and play off, the system. There are mentally ill people, and there are—sadly—people who just won’t be helped. But most people are lost children who really just want to be found.
How do you judge between the needs and wants of others? Needs are a daily necessity, but wants are how spirits are reached. Think of what the Lord asks in the temple. Fulfilling wants creates an individual one-on-one rescue between God’s children.
Next time you see a grungily-dressed person, how are you really going to see him or her?
Next time you see people who look uncomfortable in their surroundings, will you consider that they are not familiar with the rules of their environment and don’t know how to act, instead of judging them harshly?
Next time you look at your ward, notice the various classes that mingle together under the same gospel. Everyone has somehow made an effort to live some of God’s laws, but we all struggle in our own way. How have you avoided the stereotypical prejudices of those you have already befriended?