By Janell, Kaleo Portland Staff
Proverbs 22:2. “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is Maker of them all.”
For the purpose of this post, I am approaching this verse in a very literal sense, the rich and poor being the financially rich and the financially poor.
For the longest time, I only looked at this verse from one side of it. Coming from a low-income family, I held onto this viewpoint that affluent people were this ‘other’ group, and I labeled them off as self-centered people full of greed, hypocrisy, and deceit. To make matters worse, I attend a college that is considered pretty affluent, thus a challenge I faced over my first year was being constantly frustrated with people who didn’t know what it’s like to not have enough. To not be able to get the toys or clothes wanted. To have no power at home because the electricity bill had not been paid on time. To have to eat fast food every day because it was the cheapest option for a meal.
Based off of these things, you can begin to see that I had a lot of bitterness towards people who were better off than me. So with all this pent up frustration, I found much comfort in Proverbs 22:2, using the verse as a way to feel better about myself and my social status. Whenever I was confronted by a privileged person who I felt carried their self with entitlement, I used to think things like “you think you’re so much better than me but you’re not.” At first glance, this may seem like an okay thought to have, but it soon became a downward spiral where I twisted the words of the Scripture and began to look down on the rich, thinking that I was better than them because I had less. Thus, I distanced myself from the affluent, mentally placing myself in this ‘good’ group and further stereotyping the rich into the ‘other’ group I mentioned before. And if ever a moral conflict would arise in me, I would quickly shoot it down with the excuse that I was poor and therefore I deserved at least a voice of frustration and complaint towards those with privilege.
I’m not proud of these thoughts but they are real and true, and I hope that the rest of this narrative will show God working through these things with me to reveal my faults, my weaknesses, and ultimately His goodness.
This stereotype was strongly challenged this summer in serving with Kaleo. While I had been sitting in a nice dormitory with clean clothes, a filled belly, and a comfy bed, I realized how those things in themselves were such gifts. While I had been complaining about being socioeconomically disadvantaged and not having my voice heard, I saw the homeless people in Portland and was left with this sick feeling in my gut. Not from the different smells they carried or the way they looked, dressed, or acted but because of a realization of something smelly and dirty within myself: for the first time this summer, I was able to experience the other side of this verse. In fact, I felt rebuked. I realized that in this context, in serving the homeless population, I became the affluent group–to these people, I was the ‘other’ group. To the people I was serving, I was the rich and they were the poor.
This realization didn’t come in an instant.
I struggled with my complaints and my hardened heart and how they seemed misaligned with what I was living and learning every day with Kaleo. The people I was complaining about became the character I began to embody. And I don’t know if this came from a place of envy or pride that led me to become this person with such degrading thoughts. But eventually, I began to see the error in my thinking through the things God was speaking to me through Scripture, through people, and through the homeless.