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“God will provide.” We say those words glibly, so certain of their truth that we may appear to have no compassion for people in distress. That isn’t what they are experiencing day after day. Life seems to be stacked against them. Perhaps they don’t have the skills to find a job that will pay a living wage. So they eke out a meagre existence on welfare.
If they take part time work, the income is deducted from their welfare cheque. The government offers financial aid to get the training needed for a better paying job. But if they accept that offer, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing and they are worse off than before. What are they to do?
Some do escape from the welfare trap. That possibility exists for many more, but it looks hopeless who are caught there.
If they could just win the lottery that would give them a way out. Except it doesn’t; the lottery is just another trap. Those who win big are usually back where they started within two years.
The real problem is not a lack of education or a lack of money. Those problems are real, but the underlying problem is a lack of hope. Well-meaning people can’t inspire hope in the poor by telling them that there is work for anyone who really wants to work. All the listener feels from that is condemnation. Neither does it help to label them as lazy or stupid.
A baby watches big people walk around on two legs. Eventually she gets the courage to try it for herself, and she falls. The next day she tries again, and falls again. But she sees the big people doing it and wants so badly to do it herself that she keeps trying. Soon she can stand by herself. Then she takes a step or two, and falls once more. But she keeps trying and pretty soon she can walk; before long she is running.
That is the way life works. Winning the lottery does not instantly make one capable of walking, in whatever metaphorical context one may wish to apply it. None of the people who appear to be so successful in life got there without a shaky start. Everyone began with baby steps.
That is the way that God works in the life of a newborn Christian. Jesus told the disciples “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit does not dump the whole load on us and tell us the shape up; he gently guides us step by step, allowing us to concentrate on making the next step and giving us a gentle assurance that we are moving in the right direction.
This is the kind of help needed by those who feel trapped in a dead-end street. First, they need to grasp the hope that it is possible to get out of there. Then they need the courage to take just one step. Even if that step doesn’t get them very far, they need to feel that they have accomplished one little thing and that will give them the courage to take one more step. In time their steps become more confident, leading to possibilities they thought were forever beyond their grasp.
As Christians we have a reputation for thinking that the misfortunes of the poor are entirely their own fault, for lacking compassion. I’m afraid many of us have earned that reputation. Perhaps we need to begin making baby steps toward an attitude that inspires hope in others.