What if caring for the poor is easier, more meaningful, and more fun than we have imagined? Well, it is. Here are four practical ways to revitalize our desire to care for the poor.
Step 1: Admit it: We want to help. We do not need to be challenged, guilted, or pressured into caring for those in need. Our hearts are good and want to make a difference; we simply need to honor our hearts! So let’s start by asking ourselves, “what issues or groups of hurting people have been breaking my heart lately?” Is it people who are homeless? Disabled? Displaced refugees?
Step 2: Rehumanize people in need. The biggest block to acting to help others is when we dehumanize them. In fact, Dr. Phil Zimbardo’s famous research revealed that we only ignore the pain of others after we objectify them in some less-than-human way. So, if we cannot personally meet the folks for whom our hearts are breaking, we can watch a documentary. For example, I recently watched the incredibly good documentary Park Avenue, which re-humanized and energized my efforts to help people caught in the cycle of poverty.
Step 3: Quickly research the best way to help these folks. We use Charity Navigator to evaluate the financial health of large charities. I also recently discovered insightful studies by economists that are getting increasingly effective at measuring actual life change per dollar of giving. Finally, we can partner with local community leaders who are already helping those in need. For example, here in Detroit the leaders at Grace Community Church prayerfully research, evaluate, and then invest in worthwhile ministries that are making a difference through the Impact fund. (Full disclosure: Grace Counseling Center is a beneficiary of this fund.)
Step 4: De-clutter our homes and give lots of stuff away. Why? Because we use stuff to try to fill the “God-shaped hole” in our hearts. We get attached and addicted. Gerald May said “addiction is the most powerful psychic enemy of humanity’s desire for God.” And that’s exactly the point: we declutter and give stuff to people in need so that our hearts’ deepest desire for goodness and mercy can flow more freely. For example, my addiction is books, so I sorted and gave away three large boxes of books. As I write this I feel spiritually grounded and refreshed knowing the empty space on my shelf is blessing people who are poor.
Caring for the poor brings our hearts to life. And Lent is the perfect time to rediscover the deeply good and merciful people that we really are.