“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20b).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
I am just about to finish up my first year in a two-year program in spiritual direction offered by the North Carolina Institute of Spiritual Direction and Formation (https://ncspiritualdirection.org/). It is an excellent program, one that I highly recommend to anyone feeling a call to the work of a spiritual director. One of the many topics we explored this semester was that of Franciscan spirituality (from St. Francis of Assisi). I found myself wrestling with Lady Poverty – or at least with the idea of Lady Poverty. What is so blessed about being poor? What is there in the daily struggle to put food on the table, pay the rent or mortgage, and provide for my child’s education and medical needs that should make me happy?
Saint Francis found great blessing in his voluntary poverty. It freed him from the cares of the world in a way that all his father’s wealth and property could not. It freed him to serve the God he loved in ways that his education and miliary career never could. However, Francis didn’t have a wife and children depending on him.
I have that in common with Francis, yet I still find myself shying away from the idea of selling all my worldly goods and living in that much solidarity with the poor. It is perhaps a weakness on my part. On the other hand, it might simply be that God has not called me to that. God uses each of us in different ways and different settings.
The Gospel of Matthew helps me embrace Lady Poverty in a different way – a way that has helped me find grace in the concept of poverty. Matthew teaches me that poverty of spirit is foundational to finding grace in any situation – at least as I understand that term (poverty of spirit). In my understanding, to be poor in spirit is to understand and accept our complete dependence upon God for life, wisdom, healing, forgiveness, and anything else you can name. Without poverty of spirit, financial poverty becomes a terrible burden, one that can lead me further away from God. Without poverty of spirit, great wealth can lead me to arrogance and the illusion of self-sufficiency, which also leads me away from God.
When I accept my complete dependency upon God, I discover that I am prepared for whatever circumstances come my way. Like Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians: God’s grace is enough for us because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. That is such a foreign concept to most of us! We are taught to avoid any sign of weakness, to be strong in the face of grief, suffering, fear, etc. We are encouraged to seek power and status so others respect us. We are told to pray like it all depends on God but act like it all depends on us. There’s a term for such silliness. It’s called functional atheism.
Poverty of spirit reminds us that it does all depend on God. Yes, we are called to do our part, but we do it through God’s guidance and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We should pray like it all depends on God and we should act like it all depends on God submitting ourselves to God’s purposes and plans. We should be ready to be God’s instrument, not God’s manager. We should be ready to be vulnerable to God and to one another. We should be ready to accept our weaknesses, our limitations, and our neediness. There is no shame in being merely human. It is what God created us to be.
I can be poor in spirit regardless of my financial situation so long as I always remember that what I have does not belong to me but to God. That includes not only my finances but also my time, my energy, my gifts, my abilities, and even my limitations. It is in knowing that truth that I am able to allow God to do the impossible through me. The same was true for Saint Francis, who was called by God to sell everything and live in financial poverty. Without poverty of spirit, he could never have been able to do that.
What is God calling you to? How is God calling you to live? What is God calling you to give? Whatever it is, enter into it with a poverty of spirit and it will happen. More than that, it will be for you an experience of God’s amazing grace.
Rev. Joyce Day
If you would like to view past editions of Grace for the Journey, follow this link: https://sounddistrictnc.org/category/grace-for-the-journey/