Twenty or so years ago, we were living in West Alabama and I took Cassie, about age 9, to the local shopping center (translation: Walmart). It was just before Easter. We didn’t find whatever it was we were looking for, so we left past the customer service counter.
“Daddy,” she whispered. “Look… those people are poor!”
“Those people” were a middle-aged married couple, standing at the customer service desk. They were very humbly dressed, to be sure. And they had all the individual parts to make their own Easter baskets – apparently not able to afford the prepackaged wonders that were for sale in the back.
Ah, Fatherhood! The opportunities we have to engage with our children at teachable moments to give them perspective, wisdom, and character. This was certainly one of them, and a donned my SuperDad cape.
“So,” I began, “what does that make us? Are we rich?”
“No,” she said. “We aren’t rich.”
“So are we poor?”
“No,” she said. “We’re broke!”
That was 20 years ago and it’s still funny… and profound.
Time for a Little Change in Policy
There always seems to be an ongoing conversation in this country about the rich and the poor. About what the so-called “One percent” owes the rest of us, or about what our responsibilities are to the poor and how we even should define poverty in this country – one of the wealthiest in the world.
Excuse me… What about the broke people?
What about the people who work 40-50 hours a week and live paycheck to almost-paycheck?
What about the people who were taught Algebra and Trigonometry in high school, but can’t get their heads around compound interest or balance a checkbook?
What about the people who give of their time, volunteer at their churches and nonprofits, and blanch when they are told that it will cost $160,000 to educate just one of their children – an amount that about equals their annual income for four years today?
What about the people who have figured out that their $9.00-per-hour income isn’t going to cut it, and at age 29 have returned to college to get that degree?
What about the parents of teenagers who are watching ads from J.C. Penney and others who are told the only thing that matters to their teenagers is what kind of clothes they wear to school?
What about the adults who are told at the same time that they need to get out of debt, but that spending their money is a form of patriotism to keep the economy going?
What about the church members who are told what to do with the “10 percent” – the tithe of their income – but desperately need help with the 90% (which God owns, too)?
What if There’s More than One Way to be Broke?
Another thing… who says “broke” has to be limited to dollars and cents? Some people have plenty of money, but are neither rich nor poor in relationships – they’re broke. That simply means they have relationships, but along the way they have strained them to the point where they’re carrying a big load of debt when it comes to friends or family.
Some people are professionally broke. They have burned themselves out and not taken the time to invest in their professional future through rest, inspiration, new training or networking.
Some people are emotionally broke. They’re tired of carrying somebody else’s pain or burden without the feeling that someone else is carrying theirs. They feel as though they have nothing left to give.
Some people are physically broke. They’re healthy enough to get out of bed and go to work, but they have lost their physical energy and vibrancy.
Some people are modern-day Laodiceans – they are rich and increased with good and think they don’t need anything. But God looks at them and says they are spiritually poor, miserable, wretched, blind, and naked.
Why Broke People are Broke
This one’s easy to define, but not easy to solve. Broke people at any level are broke because they spend as much or more than they take in. And that fits any commodity – money, love, relationships, time, energy, whatever.
So why do they do it? Lots of reasons, starting with a desire to please other people. Many people are broke because they don’t want to be the man or woman who’s always saying “no” to everybody. They don’t want to tell their kids no, their friends no, their church leaders no, or even that sales person no.
Some people are broke because they can’t say no to themselves. They have no clue that just because they want something in the moment doesn’t mean they should have it, or that it’s wise.
Some people are broke because they gambled with the future. They assumed people would understand, the economy would get better, the deal would go through, the job would always be there, they’d always find a way out. Until the day came when their assumptions betrayed them.
In an interesting twist, some people are broke because they were afraid to risk anything. They have no friends because they didn’t reach out to anyone. They have no money because they stayed too long at a low-paying, low-risk job while the world and its economy passed them by.
Imagine the Possibilities
My, what possibilities exist for those who can see the enormous potential of the broke people. Jesus said we’d always have the poor. And the one percent will always be around, though the faces and names may change.
What about the massive majority in-between? What could happen if a church could teach people how to live prosperously, generously, and peacefully with money at whatever level?
What if a business specialized in helping the broke be not-so-broke?
What if a training center or university could give people the skills, not just to inhabit jobs that exist now, but to create their own wealth in the future by creating jobs for other people?
What if a politician could harness the energy of the battalions of the broke – not just to be angry and demand change, but to truly shape policy in a way that honors responsibility, hard work, and character?
What if a leader – any leader – could awaken new possibilities in the hearts and lives of the broke and show them a better way?
It could happen. And it is happening in places all over the globe. And that could very well be your calling. One thing is sure… whoever harnesses the potential of the broke people will create a future far beyond what anybody else has imagined.
Why not you?
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