I can empathize…but not sympathize

That is what I answered to the question: What are your thoughts on poverty?

This is specific to North American “poverty”. I’ve seen Chinese poverty. Ukrainian poverty. Roma/Gypsy poverty. And honestly, North American “poverty” is kind of luxurious in comparison. In those other countries, there are deep rooted systemic and policy issues that do not help the poor or might actually keep them in their impoverished state…it’s nothing a shower and some crowd-funding can fix. In North America….well, it’s the land of opportunity! There’s so many social welfare/aid organizations to connect with here! North America is where the Cinderella story can come true.

Take my own Dad for example…or many immigrant families who share a similar story. He grew up in impoverished conditions in Hong Kong. There was no such thing as a Food Bank to supplement what you’re not able to buy. You climbed trees and picked fruit. You caught fish with bits of string off docks in murky waters. You survive. You jump at the opportunity to come to Canada and then you struggle to learn a new language, get an education and pay rent. All while working at below minimum wage because you can’t read well enough to find out you should be paid more. You don’t even know about all the social resources you could tap into. You just make it work. And you save every penny. I have friends whose families have moved through refugee camps before landing in North America and it’s a similar story. None of them knew the local language when they came here but they’ve put their children (us) through university (or taught us how to work hard to pay for it ourselves), paid off their mortgages, owned businesses and can now enjoy the fruits of their labor in retirement. When I asked my Uncle if people got depressed about their economic conditions he replied, “Who has the time to get depressed? You just have to survive and think about making things better for yourself and your family. No one else is going to.”

Thinking back…when I was growing up I found out in my teen years that our income tax bracket actually showed us as being at the defined poverty line in Canada. I would’ve never known…and I never thought I lacked anything as a kid. Sure I never got the latest toy…never owned a Cabbage Patch Kid or a Barbie or a Pogo Ball…but I played and built up a good imagination with whatever we did have to play with. I felt secure and I was happy. Looking at my family now you would’ve never guessed at what they started with.

So when I read now about all these problems of poverty in North America, or stories of why people can’t seem to get out of poverty, I confess sometimes I just see their reasons as excuses. Sorry. But that’s where I’m honestly coming from. Granted there are more mental health issues tied to poverty than there might’ve been in my Dad’s time, and usually tied to drug/alcohol abuse, and I can understand the difficulty of breaking cycles of addition. Addictions aside, you have immigrant/refugee individuals or families, who don’t even know English when they land….and they can make it, put their kids through school, own a business, buy a house. And the local English speaking able bodied person can’t do the same because why?? I don’t understand.

I can empathize…see why it sucks to be in their shoes…but I have a really hard time sympathizing as to why they’re still in that position given all the resources around them. A really hard time.

This isn’t something I gloat about or look down on others about. It’s just where I’m at in my thoughts. I’m still challenged to consider how to be Christ-like when I come across the needy here or wherever I go. Taking care of orphans and widows is what the Lord accepts. To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. And to loose the chains of injustice, to feed the hungry and cloth the naked. I want to do this….with a genuine heart. So Father, help me see with YOUR eyes and to show love as You would.

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