I was feeling sorry for myself the other day. It's a sin I often struggle against, and often fail to struggle against. Specifically, I was feeling a bit down about how tough it is with four kids, single income family, lots of growing bodies, an old house...you know the drill, can do the math and figure out what I mean.
Sometimes, despite living in the richest country in the world (or at least what is close to the richest country in the world), I feel poor. Despite having everything I need, I feel poor.
Where does this feeling come from? Not from God, that's for sure. I feel poor because I don't have a Kitchenaid, only have one computer, and can't afford tai kwan do lessons for my kids, and because there are things that need to be repaired in my house? I feel poor because I don't have the ability to walk in to Talbots or Old Navy or the Gap and buy cute clothes for myself and my kids and pay cash for it. What's up with these standards, anyways?
It's the standards that are bent, not my life. But I sometimes still feel poor.
But it's been amazing. No one here is naked. Seriously. None of us.
So, what is UP? Why these feelings?
It boils down to envy. I decided to do a bit of a search to see if any of the early Fathers of the Church wrote about riches and poverty, and specifically what the poor can do to enhance their virtue, and google led me to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship site (I am such the OPF type of gal, and if I had the membership fee, I'd join in a heartbeat!), where there is the first half of a very excellent article soon to be published in full in the Marquette Journal by a man named John D. Jones, who works at Marquette University. Here's the link.
The main thing I pulled out, as far as my own personal responsibilities go, is that everyone can give alms. Even to poorest of poor have the ability to pray for another, offer a kind word, a smile to a fellow human being. This is alms giving, too. But I am not such a one. I have more resources than that. I can do even more, even in the midst of my so-called "felt poverty" that is mostly due to a horridly inflated sense of what is or ought to be "normal" and a pile of previously incurred obligations.
In short, a vice for the poor to battle is that of envy. The article spoke of that, quoting St. John Chrysostom (of course!) at length on the subject. (St. John spoke at length about so many things, didn't he?) The rich have a narrow path indeed! Think of the parable of the poor man and Lazarus! St. John speaks of this, but also speaks of the path of the poor: practicing gratitude and not allowing envy, self-pity or any such vice to creep into one's heart.
Because poverty, no matter how strident, cannot take away a poor person's virtue unless it is abandoned voluntarily.
But standing in the middle, caught between a degree of imagined or felt poverty on the one hand and extraordinary riches and responsibilities on the other hand (a unique place to be, perhaps, in the history of humanity), it behooves me to face up to both sides of the sermon: And I feel both the calling of the rich to remember the poor, and the calling of the poor to abandon envy.
And as I was picking up my shoes off my floor the other day, thinking about all of this, I realized that the very shoes I was picking up were expensive shoes. The sort of shoes that I need for my bad back. Several pairs of birkenstock sandals, and a pair of warm Morrel slides that I wear in the winter. Each of these pairs of shoes came to me...from God's hand. I did not go out and buy them. I prayed about needing appropriate shoes, and God met my need. Providence.
And then it occurs to me, in a small moment of clarity that the only real poverty is a failure to be fed from God's hand.