Life, as it turns out, is constantly changing. There are seasons that feel stagnant, but in reality, that’s all they are: seasons. No matter how long the winter may seem, spring eventually comes. This season in my life is completely unique, and through it, God’s teaching me new lessons. To be honest, I’ve struggled with how raw this post should be. The vague, generic phrases I originally wrote were ineffective and pointless. However, if I am honest, I open myself and my family up to criticism and judgment.
Then again, why bother writing if I’m not honest?
This season’s lesson: compassion.
One of God’s favorite ways of getting a point across is through experience. It’s hard to truly find compassion for a situation if you can’t relate to it personally. Pity, yes. Empathy, no. Compassion, possibly.
There are some things I would rather not allow into my seasons, no matter how empathetic they may make me.
And yet, this season is one of poverty.
I hesitate to use that word, because one hand, I know that I am rich by the rest of the world’s standards. I have a roof over my head, some food in my pantry, clean water to drink, indoor plumbing, heat and air conditioning, running cars, a cell phone, a computer, and so much more.
On the other hand, paying rent is a struggle every month. It’s incredibly difficult to pay for food, let alone healthy food. The utilities, cell phone, and internet bills are usually late. Basic amenities that were once seen as essential are now optional.
In America, my little family and I are well under the poverty line. This is not a place that we want to be. I don’t enjoy the stress that it brings. I don’t enjoy asking for delayed payments in order to avoid losing power. I don’t enjoy conserving light bulbs. I don’t enjoy wearing the same clothes over and over. I don’t enjoy admitting that I need help.
I always said that I would never get government assistance, no matter how poor, unless I had a child. Well, guess what—I have a child. And I’ve had to ask for government assistance. Yes, it’s true—you, the American taxpayer, are paying for my son’s health insurance. You are paying for my milk and eggs.
I’ve learned to be okay with that.
I’m not a lazy good-for-nothing who sits around breeding kids and thinking up ways to screw the system out of more assistance. Despite the opinions of some, this stereotype actually isn’t common at all. Most of us—that’s right, us—the people who need help—are simply in a season where we have to admit we need help. This season won’t last forever. My husband and I won’t be students forever. We won’t have to work low-end jobs for forever. We do these things now to better our future. We accept the present in the hope and knowledge that it will end.
I know, though, that many people in my acquaintance will disagree with this stance. I’ll be honest: the things that you post online and the things you say regarding assistance hurt. They hurt because they are things I used to say. They hurt because I understand now how alienating, closed-minded, and judgmental they are. I understand now how the woman using WIC feels when the people behind her in line whisper complaints and the cashier treats her with disdain. The things you say hurt because, now, you’re saying them about me.
“I’m tired of lazy people sitting around all day and using my tax dollars to live. Get a job!” (I’m not lazy. I’m a full-time student with a three month old baby. I can’t work a normal job because childcare costs more than I could make and my child has a panic attack any time I leave him for more than an hour. My husband, also a full-time student, works at a pizza place. He’s constantly exhausted and is literally doing as much as he can. Our family of three is somehow supposed to survive on one part-time income. It isn’t possible.)
“The government needs to stop enabling people and cut assistance.” (Enabling people to… eat? Because that’s literally all I want the government to help me do. Eat. Others get help with things like a place to live, etc. It is horrible how people are enabled to have a place to live. I respectfully disagree with the stereotype that anyone who uses government assistance will use it forever.)
“People working jobs that don’t pay enough need to get motivated and get something better. It isn’t my job to pay for them!” (We are motivated to get something better. We’re trying. But there’s a season that has to happen before that’s a reality, and we need help during it. Side note: who exactly should work those jobs? As much as you disdain the lazy McDonalds worker, someone has to make your fries.)
“People who can’t afford kids shouldn’t have them.” (First off: babies happen. Please accept that. If we are truly to consider ourselves pro-life, we can’t make those kinds of statements. It implies that it’s better if the baby wasn’t born at all. If we want the babies to be born, shouldn’t we also want to make sure they are cared for after birth?)
“Maybe you’re working hard, but most people on assistance aren’t.” (Disagree. People have difficult times. It happens.)
“It’s the church’s responsibility to make sure the poor are taken care of, not the government’s.” (In an ideal world, yes, I do agree with this. Our beautiful church family has taken our breath away with their generosity on more than one occasion, and we are incredibly grateful to them. But that’s not real life. Your average church is not equipped to handle the day-to-day struggles of all of the poverty in their community. It just isn’t realistic.)
I don’t feel the need to defend myself, despite this rather long treatise. I accept my season. In fact, I find joy in it. I have an amazing husband and the best baby to ever grace this earth. I have the opportunity to go to school and earn my degree. Our season may be hard, but it’s full of reward. This isn’t at all a plea for pity or political statement—this has just weighed on my heart and I had to share it.
The point is this: you don’t know people’s stories. Be careful who you judge. Be careful the sweeping statements that you flippantly make. Perhaps, instead of stereotyping, try to understand. Try to show compassion. It’s a lesson I’m learning every day.
“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” (Psalm 116:5)