Discovering God in All We Lack

0 comments Posted on May 1, 2019

by Alia Joy

I stumble into the ER clutching the side of my mouth as if my hand were scaffolding holding my face in place. The triage nurse takes my vitals and plugs my information into the computer, telling me to take a seat.

I sit and wait. The sliding doors glide open and a boy who is all limbs and elbows enters, grabs a wheelchair and wheels it out to the waiting taxi. A woman leans out of the cab, clutching at his arm like she’s drowning and he’s a branch on the banks to snatch on to. He lowers her into the wheelchair and her face grimaces in pain. She leans heavily against the side of the wheelchair as he pushes her toward the nurses’ station.

He doesn’t look up or around, his eyes stay focused on the top of her head. He looks as tired as a lifetime of hard could ever look. He’s doing man’s work. Her skin is sallow and sunken, partially hidden under her blue surgical mask, and her voice rasps in agony as she moans.

After a few minutes, I hear the woman wail, “I’ve been waiting for a long time! . . . Oh, I don’t want to hear it! Just get me in, you stupid nurse. Get me in! I can’t handle this chemo, I’m dying! I can’t wait for your stupid list, I need to go in now! I used up all my pain meds and I need more. I need them now!”

She is half crying and half squirming out of her. At first the nurse’s voice was soothing like she was talking to a child or an imbecile. But as the rants continue, she is brisk, speaking in short, staccato bursts.

The woman bristles at the slightest touch and her cries echo through the waiting room. The security guard comes out of her office and hovers near the reception area. When they’ve shuffled the woman off behind the doors, I see the nurse mouth to the officer, “Junkie.”

The wailing woman is beyond restraint. She is flailing and lost and I ache for her. I want to gather her and her son. I want to sit with them.

Instead, I pray into the void, into the pain, into the trauma and poverty that would bring a woman here in the middle of the night. I don’t know if she’s battling an addiction or if she’s just in so much need that it comes out as vulgar and coarse, but I know what it’s like to hurt so bad all I wanted was to be numb, to be nothing. It doesn’t matter if she’s an addict or not, at this moment, she’s human and hurting, and I feel her sorrow echo in my soul like déjà vu.

I don’t know where she’s poor, but I know she is. I know it’s poverty of soul or poverty of spirit or poverty of circumstance, because this kind of deficit shows. It can’t even hide itself and pretend because the void swallows everything. People turn away because it’s indecent to be so desperately needy.

One of the biggest distinctions between the rich and the poor is not account balances or stock options, it’s choices. The poor cannot choose.

In lean times, we’ve struggled to pay rent, to buy food, to put gas in the tank, to pay medical bills. For much of my life, we’ve been one paycheck away from being homeless. Yet, compared to so many, we are affluent. Now, we’re often broke but no longer poor. Our income has fluctuated greatly over the years, but when you’ve lived on the sparse side of things for so long, you never forget how it feels to have no options.

Being poor doesn’t automatically make someone righteous or holy any more than being rich does. But limited material resources can create a deeper faith and dependency on God because you don’t have the power to do it in your own strength. We know this in theory, and yet we hate being reliant on anyone or anything. We say God is all we need but we don’t live like it.

Sometimes faith is easier in the crisis. We cry out to God so easily in our desperation— in the storms, the waves, the torrential downpour. The frailty of our condition, our humanity small and powerless in light of the crushing weight bearing down from all sides, is revealed in our inability to ransom ourselves. There is a helplessness in poverty that precedes the move of God in our lives because we understand an aspect of grace that so many miss: we do nothing to earn it. When we understand this, all becomes grace.

Yet so often, we don’t believe we have anything to learn from the poor. We think, Haven’t they made the choices that got them into that mess in the first place? There are no accolades for our lack and our weakness. But God places tremendous value there.

Throughout the Bible, God spoke of the various reasons for poverty, and while the foolish choices of a sinful lifestyle can contribute to being impoverished, Jesus spent much more time rebuking the affluent for their sinful lifestyles of oppression, greed, and systemic injustice that showed they didn’t love, care for, or see their poor neighbors. His heart of compassion always bent toward those suffering under the burdens of injustice, poverty, and calamity. Jesus has a decided preference for the weak.

He said in seeing the least of these, in serving them, we would serve him. He didn’t mention their choices, their gender, their mental stability, their religion, their political affiliations, their country of origin, their work habits, addictions, vices, sins, or the color of their skin. When we begin to do this, displacing ourselves while loving and caring for people who are marginalized, our love has less to do with charity and everything to do with the incarnation of Christ who made himself poor, just for us.

Excerpted from Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2019.

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