I have a confession to make.
And the worst part is, I just realized it. Today.
I would have told you that Christians are a diverse group of people. And I would have believed it. Some work in offices. Others work on landscaping. Some live in $500,000 houses. Others (like us) rent a small farm house. (And we won’t be living in a house that expensive ever. Well, at least not until any little people are grown and stop depreciating everything they touch.) Some drive Fords. Others (eh hem) would rather die than drive Fords. In my mind, there were allowed to be preference discrepancies. But overall, I think that I thought that God’s plan for all Christians was… (gulp)… to look like me.
Not only is that the highest form of vanity, but also a condemning lie. Let me be quick to say that I cannot point the finger at the person who taught me that (although, most likely, myself.) I have just looked around in Christian circles and observed. I have noticed the visitors who get overlooked. The cliques that the pastor’s wife is part of. The groups that get asked out to eat after services. Have you seen them? They all wear the same clothes. They have the same taste in food and accessories. To be clear, most of my friends are pretty similar to me. As a general rule, we feel most comfortable with people like us. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, and I am not saying we should strive to have friends who don’t look like us. But I am saying that when we overlook people who aren’t like us, we have erred greatly.
And whether I recognized it or not, it taught me something. Something I need to un-learn.
It subconsciously taught me that good Christians look nice and have the latest clothing and always shine their shoes and never shop at thrift stores and always whiten their teeth (it’s almost more important than flossing.) If God has REALLY “blessed”, they get their nails done (love me some manicures) and highlight their hair and visit the tanning bed (or at least their back porches) on a regular basis.
The point is not that these things are evil. (For heaven’s sake, I am guilty of all those things. Why would I call myself evil?!) The point is that THIS is the picture I had of what Christians look like. Which means… ready for this?… I had decided what Christians DIDN’T look like. You follow?
This goes for things besides physical appearance, in case anyone is wondering. Church attendance, music choices, age-old debates (to go to the movies or not to go to the movies?). Think about what assumptions you have made. We all have them.
At the soup kitchen today, I learned this: Loving people to Jesus doesn’t mean making them look just like me. In my head, I was building them nice houses, getting them executive office jobs in buildings with lots of windows, and shopping at Gap with them. Until I saw the smiles on their faces. They didn’t feel deprived.
The battle for most of us in in our minds. And people, my mind told me that anybody with a brain would desire to live the life that I lead. It simply isn’t so. I was humbled. And a little devastated for them (to be truthful, I really was). And I was VERY sad when it occurred to me that they wouldn’t want my wardrobe. I think it’s rather nice (Thank Jesus I had good taste in clothes when I was in college since I’m still wearing all of them.)
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t drive home thinking about what nail polish I was getting rid of. (In actuality, I was debating what color I was going to paint my fingers later.) But I was sobered when I realized that given the chance to change their lives, THEY DIDN’T WANT TO. And it’s not because they (entirely) like bumming from the state or living in government housing. It’s not (all the time) because they’re lazy. It’s not (always) because they love welfare.
Ya’ll. This floored me.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s because they are HAPPY WITH SIMPLE. They have found joy in things besides name-brand jeggings and patent heels. Nothing bothers them. They can’t smell themselves and they didn’t need all those teeth to brush anyway. Now, honestly, most of the people who came through today didn’t stink. Maybe it’s because their gratitude covered it up.
I’m a “fixer.” I immediately wanted to move these people out and get them jobs and change their outfits. But you know what?
They couldn’t love Jesus any better if they had a house. They couldn’t love their neighbors any better wearing my white ruffled dress from Target. It’s debatable if it would detract. Today, I was not there to question salvation or separate the goats from the sheep. I was there to serve. To love. I left my white wedges at home. (I’ll save them for Sunday.) (With my white dress & pearl studs.) Because what was more important than style was loving people where they were at. And realizing that Jesus did, too.
I feel urged to say this, however. I know plenty of people who carry their “poor” banner with great pride and often try to mock the possessions of others or minimize their affluence to make themselves feel better. Hear me out: Living poor is not God’s plan for His people any more than being rich is. A lot of that depends on choices…the number of household incomes, the number of children, the choice of occupation or lack thereof. I know people who “live poor for Jesus” but constantly show their insecurity about their situation by the way they put down others with their words or who don’t show gratitude when someone else shows them kindness. God has not set a definite standard of wealth for His children. He just promises that He will never have them begging bread and will never forsake them.
He gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Consistently when Jesus talks about life, He is referring to state of mind. I believe that abundant life NOT ONLY means socks without holes BUT ALSO means joy, contentment, and peace. Those who are content with food and raiment are often the happiest because they aren’t bogged down with stuff and therefore have room to be grateful for what they do have (1 Timothy 6:8). If I am not content, it’s likely that I should reconsider my priorities. Not hold onto something so tightly. Or give something away. Except this time, when I do, I won’t think about what a blessing I am to give them something else to live with. I’ll remember how fortunate they are to live without it.