I’ve probably spent more time judging the spending habits of America’s poor than I care to admit. It’s easy to justify buying non-essentials when we have expendible income. But, it’s hard not to question a mother whose four young children are all wearing Nike brand shoes while she pays for groceries with food stamps. It’s hard not to ask why she’s buying the four dollar package of cheese, while you scrape by on the $1.99 package of “cheese food product.” It’s hard not to judge when she piles the kids and the groceries into a Cadillac Escalade, while you’re driving a compact sedan of little presence. You may even balk at the injustice of the system as you read these scenarios. Yet, I hope that, instead, you are praying for my judging heart!
The reality is that I cannot begin to understand the circumstances of that mother and her children. It’s not my place to question how she got the shoes and the SUV and the expensive cheese. In fact, as I now hold my own Lone Star card, using government food stamp money to make ends meet, I worry that there are others like me out there, turning their nose up at my supposed misuse of funds. They could be wondering why their tax dollars are paying for my food. I mean, I don’t fit the face of poverty, right?
There’s a good chance that, unlike me, that mother did not choose a life of poverty. There’s a chance that maybe she worked many hours of overtime to bless her children with those shoes. Maybe the Escalade was something she purchased before her husband left her, when financial times were better. Or, it could have been an inheritance, or purchased at an auction for pennies on the dollar.
Even as I attempt to rectify the thoughts of my heart by giving this woman a good reason to be poor, and even as I swipe that Lone Star card for all the store to see, I still do not understand poverty. I have failed at separating stereotypes from specific circumstances. I have failed at pursuing justice for the sake of her children, so that they may have a way out of poverty one day. I have failed at loving them.
The good news is, though, that love is not impossible. Thus, understanding the life of this hypothetical mother and children is not impossible. And through these, overcoming the injustice of poverty is not impossible.