Updated: Feb 3
My husband and I are helpers. You know the helpers - the social workers who forego larger salaries to meet neighbors’ pressing needs day in and day out, the foster parents, the college kids taking sandwiches to people under the bridge, the folks who give rides to neighbors who haven’t showered in some days, the folks who care for kids so DFACS doesn’t have to get involved, the folks who help friends who’ve been evicted move on short notice, the folks who sit and chat a while with panhandlers downtown, the organizers who spur the community to action when oppressive laws are hurting the most vulnerable. Like the other helpers, we’ve found that our life and our faith make more sense when we are in the service of people on the margins.
We’ve spent the last decade of our lives helping our neighbors in need. And guess what… our neighbors are still in need. They still get evicted. DFACS still gets involved, and some laws are still oppressive. People are hurting.
Being a helper means being near the hurting all the time. I will never forget sitting in a sparse, dank apartment room in west Athens with a weeping, struggling single mother who said, “I’m just so tired.” Though she showed a brave face most of the time, the hurt was always there.
There seem to be two approaches to constantly encountering this hurt. The first way is to essentially ignore it. The second way is to hurt with. Ignoring poor folks' hurt may sound villainous, but let me explain. I think some people enter a life of helping because they are looking for adventure. For a kid like me, who grew up in a loving family with a cushy lifestyle, it was kind of a thrill to meet folks living under a bridge for the first time. I felt nervous and challenged and unsure of what to expect.
There is something sexy and cool about being a helper in this generation. But there’s also something sick about being a helper just because it makes you feel edgy and seems impressive.
How often do we help others just so we can say we did or so we can post on social media? How often do we help just so we can feel dangerous or feel alive or feel useful? Am I preaching to anybody?? Or is it just me?
This is the definition of poverty voyeurism. And after living this way for some time, I finally came to the following conclusion: poverty is not cute. It’s not “cool”. It’s not trendy. It is PAINFUL. It is death by a thousand disappointments. It is hunger pangs. It is desperation. It is exhaustion. It is fear. It is children. Children in cold rooms with hard floors. Children in cars. And mothers with hidden tears. It is assault. And even worse, invisibility. It is daughters and friends and veterans and grandmothers. It is relentless uncertainty.
If you want to be a helper, get ready to hurt. Get ready to pray instead of post to facebook. Get ready to be dirty. To cry. To have to leave your sweet family moment unexpectedly sometimes. Get ready to have people in your home. Or to sell your home and live more simply. Get ready to be lied to, to be stolen from, and to love anyway. Get ready to feel hopeless and to keep going anyway.
Get ready to hurt. That’s the definition of compassion: to hurt with.
Why would anyone live this way? Well, I’ll speak for myself. I do it because Jesus left heaven just to come and hurt a while with us. He befriended the most destitute. And he said things like “love one another as I have loved you”. And then he died so that we humans would only have to hurt for a brief time here on earth but then experience wholeness with Him forever.
“That is why we never give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day. We have small troubles for a while now, but these troubles are helping us gain an eternal glory. That eternal glory is much greater than our troubles. So we think about what we cannot see, not what we see. What we see lasts only a short time, and what we cannot see will last forever.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Lora is easily delighted by other people, especially her husband and two kids. She loves hosting crowds in her home for dinner and music-making and has a heart for adopting people who need a family. She enjoys learning and teaching and believes that children are some of the best leaders. She dabbles in school leading, church planting, society reimagining, activism, songwriting, Zumba instructing, and telling knock-knock jokes with her daughter. Knowing that God enjoys her is what keeps her going. You can follow her on Twitter @SmothersLora or on Instagram @lorasmothers