What do you do when you pull up at a stoplight where a homeless person sits with a sign saying “Homeless. Will work for food”? Too often I have simply looked the other way, pretending that the person outside isn’t there. Because we are afraid of being taken advantage of, or because of the assumptions we have about the person in this situation, we do nothing. We wait for the light to turn green and then we drive off. I’m not suggesting that we should be naïve about the situation, but I am suggesting that my typical response is insufficient. Especially when my children are in the car and watching what I do!
So, what should you say to your kids when you see this kind of thing? More importantly, what do we model for them when we are faced with poverty? This issue is obviously too big to tackle in a short blog post, but let me challenge our thinking in a few ways.
- Don’t be judgmental. Too often we tell our kids that the person is in that situation because they are lazy, sinful, or irresponsible. Like all of us, I’m sure the person on the side of the road has made mistakes, but I’m also fairly confident that its not that simple. Don’t assume that the poor have had the same opportunities that you and I have had. Don’t assume that they are where they are because of sin. Don’t assume that it is as simple as just getting a job. These judgmental attitudes are unbiblical, ungodly, and unhelpful for us all.
- Recognize that we have a responsibility. Since we tend to think that the person is where they are because of laziness or sin, we also tend to think that we have no responsibilities. That attitude is hard to reconcile with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He constantly looked to the poor, the marginalized, the afflicted, and the oppressed. And when He saw them, He was moved to help them. If we follow Christ, then we must as well.
- Don’t stifle their concerns. Our children’s first inclination when they see someone in need is to help them. It is often we parents that talk them out of it. We systematically teach them not to care, not to help, and not to listen. Sure, we’re afraid of the risk, but that doesn’t justify our response. We should be very cautious about stifling our children’s concerns for the poor.
- Model helpfulness. If you are afraid of wasting money, or being taken advantage of, then think outside the box. Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option. Think of ways that you can do at least a little something. Try keeping something like this in your car: granola bars, small bottles of water, $5 gift cards to a fast food chain, or any other small non-perishable food items. I’m not suggesting that these items will end poverty. But I am suggesting that they help our children see that we can and should do something.
- Pray for wisdom. There are no simple and easy answers for most of the situations we face. Instead of paralyzing us, use these as an opportunity to pray with your kids and seek wisdom from God.
Poverty and brokenness are not easy issues. But they are a fact of life that we must face and that we must teach our children about. I pray that our desire to follow Christ would outweigh our fears that keep us from helping those in need. I’m praying for you this weekend as you spend time with your kids!
P.S. Make sure to tune in the podcast on Monday as we talk with Dr. David Jones about how we should view poverty!