Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ten Things Not to Say to People in Financial Need

[Believe it or not, I wrote this article for Yahoo, and never found the time to publish it, during a time when I was not in extreme financial need. Now I am. It's still true. I was tempted to classify this article as "safety," because saying these things can make someone who has less than you have very angry...but I classified it as "verbal self-defense."]

1. “Money is part of this mortal, material life. As Christians we are only concerned about the soul...”

Really? Jesus never said anything like that! He spoke of resurrection and judgment, off in a future that was probably less vague and better known to Him than it could be to any of us...but He never lost contact with present reality. For mortal Christians to try to be holier than Jesus was would clearly be insanity. For the purposes of this article, it is sufficient to note that some Christians’ reactions to our brethren in material need are insane, and leave them there.

2. “Count your blessings! Be content with what you have!”

There is some remote possibility that this may be semi-valid, when it is spoken in the United States of America. During the twentieth century the citizens of the United States enjoyed a level of prosperity beyond anything most of the kings of the earth could have imagined. We reached a condition where our welfare class could be recognized by their high incidence of what used to be known as the diseases of the extremely rich. What we experience as hardship and poverty is often what much of the world would still perceive as luxury and wealth.

However, people seldom discuss their financial needs unless they believe they are talking to someone who has more money than they have, and who can give or lend them money, or at least offer them a job or some useful advice. If the person to whom you are talking suspects that you would not be overjoyed to have exactly what s/he has, then telling that person to be content with what s/he has amounts to advertising that you are a hypocrite.

3. “Some people have even less than you have, so be happy!”

Unless you are actively dividing all your material resources with those people who have even less than your needy neighbor has, this is another way of advertising that you are a hypocrite.

4. “Hardships make us stronger.”

This is an outright lie. While some exceptional people have claimed that the hardships they have overcome have made them stronger, anyone involved with any kind of social work quickly observes that the general rule is that hardships make people weaker.

5. “At least you have [your health, your family, a roof over your head, whatever].”

This is cold comfort...especially cold if the person’s concern is that lack of money will cause him or her to lose the other things.

6. “The Bible tells us to rejoice and thank God for EVERYthing!”

There are Bible verses that tell people to rejoice, and Bible verses that tell people to mourn. These Bible verses were always addressed to people who either were, or were being warned that they were about to be, in situations that made these emotional responses reasonable. There is no Positive Thinking about the Bible.

7. “God wants you to learn from this experience.”

Even if you know for sure that someone has become poor by spending all of her or his money on gambling or some other unsanctified addiction, don’t you think it’s a bit presumptuous for you, sinner that you are, to tell other people what God wants them to learn? Don’t you think God is capable of showing them that? If you want to try to be part of someone’s learning experience, at least have the courage to speak for yourself. Saying “I won’t help you get any more money until you’ve entered a drug rehabilitation program” actually sounds more humble than trying to tell people what God intends for them.

8. “You could save money by giving up [smoking, TV, your car, whatever].”

Always, the person who’s living on a smaller income is the one to tell the person who’s living on a larger income how to save money. If you are in fact living so graciously on $500 a month that your idiot brother-in-law has the nerve to ask you to help him meet expenses he can’t meet on $1500 a month, then by all means offer him the benefit of your Creative Tightwad advice. But, again, chances are that the person who has revealed his or her financial need is the one scraping by on the much smaller income, so try not to sound more of a fool than you can help. If you had to live on $500 a month, and had just learned to live with the idea that going to live concerts and eating in nice restaurants are not part of your life, you might find yourself watching TV and eating take-out junkfood too.

9. “Don’t worry! Be happy! Live in the moment! You ate today, didn’t you? Maybe you’ll find a job tomorrow!”

What the needy neighbor hears you saying, loud and clear, is “I couldn’t care less about you. I’m not going to help you in any way.” You have every human right to say that, and you might as well say it in a straightforward manner...either way, your relationship with this person is dead.

10. “Just let go and let God. Be like the little sparrows, and trust God for your daily bread.”

God has chosen to act in this world through God’s living Body, which is the church. If you believe that God intends to supply this person with “daily bread” instead of a secure income, then you must believe you are the means God has appointed to deliver the person’s “daily bread”...and you would do well to reconsider whether God doesn’t want you to offer the person something better than continual dependence on you. Would you want that person to dole out “daily bread” for you, or would you want that person to buy something from you or offer you a job?