This quote is from a meme a young friend posted on Facebook recently. A week after seeing this meme for the first time, it still disturbs me.
I understand the sentiment. I really do. No one - unless they are cruel or wicked - wants to see a poverty-stricken family go without food or shelter.
But here's my problem...
The young friend who shared this meme doesn't pay income taxes. When I commented on his meme that he must have paid a lot in taxes, to be able to underwrite a thousand lazy bums, he cheerfully assured me that, no, he actually didn't have to pay any income tax at all this year.
Essentially, he is saying that he would rather spend someone else's money - not his own money, but money from that tax pool to which he himself has not contributed - to fund a thousand lazy bums, than to let a single poverty-stricken family go without food or shelter.
It's so easy to be generous with other people's money, isn't it?
And here's my other problem...
That poverty-stricken family he is so eager to help...does he even know who they are? Does he know their names? Their needs? Their struggles? Their history? Is he willing to invest some of himself - time, energy, relationship - in helping this family, besides all that someone-else's-money he is willing to spend?
And here's my other problem...
Endorsing a meme like the one above allows my friend to believe that he is generous and compassionate, with no actual expense, effort, or inconvenience on his part. It is vanity and self-aggrandizement.
You see, my family - we are that poverty-stricken family, or at least we used to be. Flash back 20 years:
My husband's entry-level salary was $20,500. (That was before income tax and social security deductions.) We had six children, ages seven and under. I worked nights at Kroger part-time, making minimum wage, just over $5/hour at the time, until my doctor ordered me to stop because I developed health problems due to exhaustion. Our house didn't have heat or air, and the roof leaked so badly that we spent rainy nights emptying 5-gallon buckets instead of sleeping.
According to federal government standards, we were way below the poverty level.
Life was hard. When I refer back to that period, I often call it "The Black Fog."
But we survived. How? I'll tell you how...
- A friend who ran a consignment store brought us bags of donated clothing in my children's sizes. (We couldn't even afford the consignment store prices.)
- Members of our church repaired our roof. Men from our church ripped off old shingles, replaced damaged sub-roofing, and laid down new shingles.
- My mother-in-law sent us bulk containers of peanut butter and oatmeal. We ate oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and soup or spaghetti for supper.
- My brother and sister-in-law paid to have window heat pump units installed.
- Another friend gifted us with school supplies, and another helped with child care, and another helped with medical bills.
No nameless, faceless, cost-me-nothing entities gave us food and shelter. Instead, Lisa and Amy and Ken and Larry and so many others sacrificed their time, their labor, and their hard-earned income to make sure we had food, clothing, medical care, and shelter.
We survived that difficult season, and now, twenty years later, I still think about each of these people with deepest gratitude and affection. They loved my family like Jesus, and I can't help but love them and love Jesus more in return.
I want to tell my young meme-sharing friend: I understand the desire to help a needy family. I want to help the truly needy, too, because I myself have been helped.
But, no, I don't want to give someone else's tax dollars, money laundered through a faceless government entity that gives another's wealth to a thousand bums or to a truly-needy family, without any personal investment or relationship.
That may be charity, but it is neither love nor generosity.
Instead, I want to give like Lisa, Amy, Ken, and Larry - lovingly, generously, personally, compassionately, sacrificially.
That kind of help - that kind of giving - changes lives.
It changed mine.