Last weekend my wife and I had a pretty intense conversation over bagels and coffee. She told me that she’d like to start inviting homeless people out to eat occasionally. Instead of simply giving them some money and moving on with her day, she was seriously contemplating inviting them to lunch or dinner, sitting down with them in a restaurant and getting to know them over a meal.
It was a daring, beautiful idea. And I spent the next half hour trying to convince her out of it.
I told her that she needs to consider the risks that doing something like that would involve. What if lunch leads to dinner? What if it leads to them wanting to come over to the house? What if they become a permanent part of our lives? What if they stole from us? What if they tried to hurt us?
As I was talking with her, another dialogue was going on inside my head. I kept thinking about the shame I would feel. If I were that close to someone who had nothing, I’d feel ashamed that I had a nice apartment with nice clothes and fancy gadgets. I’d keep my iPhone off so I wouldn’t have to answer a call in front of them. Sitting next to them, my priorities would be brought into sharp focus. And I don’t think I could handle it.
A friend of mine once asked me how I’d define being poor. I replied with what you’d expect – not having a place to sleep, food to eat, etc. She replied by asking me how long it’d take for me to find these necessities were I to lose everything. Not long, since I could tap my friends and family for those things if I had to. Couple of hours at most.
She said that’s why I’m not poor.
She said that poor isn’t lacking food or a bed. It’s lacking friends. People who love you and want the best for you and are willing to help you out when you’re in a jam. She said that there could be many reasons for the lack of such relationships (mental imbalance, off-putting disposition, etc.) but that’s really what defines being poor. A lack of love. A lack of friendship.
I keep saying I want to have a heart for the poor, want to help out in some way. But all my solutions involve throwing money at the problem and keeping my hands clean. Doing whatever it takes to avoid talking to the poor. And absolutely not inviting them to dinner or to my house.
I’m not proud of the concerns racing through my mind last weekend, but I think they were accurate explanations of what we’re all afraid of. Deep down, we all know that if we actually got to know the poor, it’d be impossible for us to continue to focus on the same things.
Lunch would turn into dinner which would turn into letting them stay with us. Because they’d become our friends and we couldn’t long endure watching our friends suffer like that. If our places were too small, we’d find places for them to stay.
Both of us have had friends who’ve helped us out with rough patches in our lives. They opened their homes to us, helped us look for jobs, bought us meals. We were lacking, but we weren’t poor.
Maybe you don’t fight poverty with money. Maybe you fight it with friendship.Follow @intentionally