Living Beyond Our Means
by Teresa Jackson on May 7th, 2020

Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Almost 60% of us. There are many reasons for this trend, including low wages, high living costs, staggering student loan debt, medical debt, or living beyond our means. The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic has provided a magnifying glass on many of society’s weaknesses, but none more than our economic fragility. Some of us have discovered that we haven’t saved enough, that purchasing that dream house should have waited, and that leasing a big SUV was a big mistake. Sure, we could afford all of those things with creative financing and a robust economy. But what happens if one of us becomes ill? Loses a job or has a reduction in hours and pay? Suddenly, almost 60% of Americans are less than a month away from walking the path to hunger and homelessness. My faith tells me, and I truly believe, that everything happens for a reason and provides an opportunity to learn something important. What can we learn from this unprecedented time in history?

The first Chapter of Proverbs is all about wisdom. Throughout history the writer of Proverbs, King Solomon, has been regarded as the wisest man who ever lived. This has always intrigued me. Beginning with the 20th verse it says, ”Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”  How cool is that? If we want wisdom, it is ours. Just look to the streets! What can we learn, collectively, from enduring and surviving a pandemic? Let’s look to the street near Sharing Life.

We have a bias when it comes to poverty in the USA. We believe there are “deserving” poor and those poor among us who are “unworthy”. Most everyone agrees we should extend grace to widows, orphans, single moms, the elderly, and the sick. Not so much when it comes to ex-offenders, addicts, and people who have made bad decisions in life or with their money. Because, after all, they got themselves into that mess and they can pull themselves out of that mess! One lesson I hope we all take away from this time of uncertainty is this: Everyone is vulnerable. People need one another. No one is immune from the threat of illness or loss of income. People all around us are driving nice vehicles with big loan payments. Loan payments they cannot currently sustain. They qualified for those loans based on income they received prior to being furloughed or let go due to a worldwide pandemic. Or before they entered the hospital for two weeks, hoping to recover from a virus that almost took their life.

The next time you drive by a local food pantry and see a shiny new car in line to receive grocery assistance, remember the pandemic of 2020. Before you pass judgment, ask yourself this question:

Do I know this person and understand their life story?

After the global pandemic is over, people will still experience personal crises that change everything in their world. You and I may not have the details of their personal predicament, and be tempted to judge. Before criticizing, remember the COVID-19 global pandemic. People with really nice cars and homes lined up to receive food because they had no other choice. It may not have looked like they needed help by looking at their life from the outside, but seeing their pile of unpaid bills and bank statement shows the real truth.

I knew of a young single mom with three children. Going through a divorce, she applied for and received Food Stamps. Now they are called SNAP benefits. She shopped for her weekly groceries and paid for them with the pastel coupons she received from the government. As she was unlocking the vehicle to help the grocery store clerk load her weekly purchases in the shiny blue sports car, the clerk asked her a question. “Wow. This is a hot car. Nice! How do you manage to afford this awesome car and still receive Food Stamps?” Feeling awkward and ashamed, she replied, “This is not my car. I am borrowing it. I don’t even have a car.” Embarrassed, she drove away. That young single mom was me.

Wisdom is crying out in the streets. It tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To withhold judgement and love one another without exception. To feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Pandemic or not, it also tells us the poor will always be with us. Worthy or undeserving? Grace wins! Remember that when the Covid-19 Pandemic is history.


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