The picture you see is two of our church members on a recent trip to a Haitian slum in the Dominican Republic. The kids they’re holding are poor. They don’t have any of the things we look forward to this time of year: summer camps, trips to the beach, vacations to Disney World. They don’t even have many of the things we take for granted every day: televisions, deep freezers, electricity, running water, a stocked refrigerator. By all accounts they should be pitied. But please, please, don’t do them that disservice.
Now when I talk about the poor I’m differentiating between poverty and extreme poverty. Extreme poverty are those without access to one of the three building blocks of life: food, water, and shelter. People in extreme poverty are to be pitied and helped whenever possible. But don’t feel sorry for the poor. They have the basic necessities of life, just not with the obscene abundance that we have it.
If we have opportunity, we should always help the poor. That’s scriptural. But we shouldn’t feel sorry for the poor. Why? Because they know a deeper truth about life than we do. As Americans, we’ve fallen for the dangerous myth that money equals happiness. They more you own, the happier you should be. By that reasoning, poor people should be miserable. In America, you’ll find a bunch of miserable poor people, because they’re convinced that money equals happiness and they don’t have enough of it.
But money has never equaled happiness. Go back and look at the picture and see if you can spot what seems out of place. It’s the smiles. The one truth we were struck with over and over again in the Dominican Republic was just how happy they all were. Genuinely happy. They had none of the creature comforts in life. The kids found a stick or a rock and made that a toy for the afternoon. And yet they were genuinely happy. They laughed, they joked, they smiled, and it was infectious. What they intrinsically know is that true happiness never comes from possessions. In fact, money can very quickly steal joy. That’s why America is the richest nation on earth and also the nation with the most people on anti-depressants. Perhaps the greatest source of lasting happiness is the quality of your relationships with other people (your relationship with God being first and foremost). Money, technology, and possessions can drive a wedge between you and the true source of happiness.
So by all means help the poor when possible, but don’t feel sorry for them. They just might be happier than you are.