The Bible has good news for people like me; people who are sick, oppressed, poor, and/or persecuted; it says we have many blessings in Heaven and we will be first and our enemies last. And churches like mine, middle class and white, love to preach on this to humble the members and whatever else. Like this past Sunday, preachers tell inspiring stories of a “least of us” who were persecuted but rose above and was God to someone not the least in the face of adversity or persecution. People leave feeling humbled and try to act more like this person, one of the Least of us’s.
This week, however, when I left, I felt an instant disconnect from my church and my faith. Rarely in church is my struggle ever preached about because pastors preach to their audiences and in my church, an emotionally disabled, impoverished, single mother is just one member in an ocean of double parent, double income, college level functioning families. Once my pastor preached on the story of a woman giving her last two pennies and Jesus said she gave more than the rich people because she gave all she had but they had much money left. My pastor focused on the other people. In my poverty, I had asked later what about the woman? What about her suffering? My pastor humbly admitted they were focused on prepping the congregation for giving Sunday and hadn’t thought much but said it’s a much discussed topic why Jesus didn’t address her poverty. My focus, though, was on that woman. She was the one I could identify with in that story. I’ve been that woman. I am that woman. I’ve put change, the only change I had left to my name, in the offering plate in hopes of a miracle. But I’m not one of those people who the pastors lift up in their sermons like this past Sunday. That’s not the type of Least of Us I am.
Whenever I’m struggling financially (pretty much always but now is particularly hard as I face my car getting repoed, utilities getting cut, and bills backing up all because my assistance got unexpectedly cut) I hear that voice in my heart remind me “blessed are the poor” and you know what? My response is not peaceful or loving or inspiring like the pastors always preach about. My response, like now, is so what? So what? Who fucking cares? Oh yes, I swear. And as I sat in my pastors office asking for help (which I later changed my mind about) I literally sobbed “I hate being poor.” I HATE it. Blessed are the poor? So what?
And my pastors talk about how kind these people are and giving but that’s not me either. I get angry and frustrated and I snap. When I spoke to someone from the government agency and he treated me like a waste of his time and humiliated me, I didn’t rise above. I didn’t stay calm. I didn’t act like someone who is blessed. Instead, as I hung up, I cussed him out and thought I hope that ass hole heard me.
What blessing is it to be poor and oppressed? Okay, so I have the gift and blessing of being grateful for every single thing I have. I look at others who have so much and take it for granted or worse, complain about not having enough, and I’m dumbfounded. I want to shake them and wake them. How many people thank God for their beds and truly mean it? I am SO grateful for my bed. After sleeping on couches, in cars, and hard hospital beds for so long, I will never take my bed for granted. How many people cry with joy and gratitude when they somehow struggle and manage (usually at the expense of not paying something else) to have a fridge full of food? Yet the few times a year this happens, I do cry and a fridge full of food is one of my greatest joys. I will kneel and sob over the abundance and give thanks to God. Literally.
Okay, but so what? So what? I HATE being poor. I want a fridge full ALL the time and usually I’m at my fridge crying over the lack of food. I acknowledge my time in poverty has blessed me but I’m so over it and I get angry and annoyed and snap sometimes at people who have so much and complain about having little. I don’t rise above. I’m not always empathetic. And I’m told my face often betrays my thoughts which I swear I am able to cuss with.
Yeah because I cuss. A LOT. I’m poor, emotionally disabled, and oppressed but NOT perfect. I’m not a role model. If you want to be Christlike I’m a very broken example. I have moments of giving and rising above but so what? That can be said about anyone. We all have moments of Christlike perfection and moments opposite of bad days and sins. Why are the poor more blessed and why should I care?
I find myself asking myself a lot, too, does God know I’m sick? Does God know I’ve been abused and have permanent scars? Does God hold me to the same standards as someone whose mind hasn’t been injured? When I get into a flashback and lash out from an alternate reality, does God know I couldn’t control it and didn’t mean to? The Bible says blessed are the poor in spirit which my pastor said means people like me. People whose minds have been injured, their spirits hurt. Once again I’m blessed but once again, so what?
I hate my PTSD and scars from self injury just a much as I hate being poor. Some people are inspired by me and see me as a blessing but I still struggle every day and will always fight wars in flashbacks no one else can travel to or see. Yes it’s a blessing to be able to bring hope and inspiration to someone so maybe that’s why the Bible says it’s a blessing but so what? All I did was sob yesterday after nightmares and flu like aches from a quick bug made me too weak to fight and find hope and light. Too physically compromised, all I could do was sob over my poverty, the exhaustion from my nightmares that woke me, and the memories of my past.
What’s worse is sometimes I am humiliated, oppressed, judged, or condemned for my “poor spirit.” Many Christian believe people who commit suicide go to hell. Would God really condemn a sick and suffering person who lost their war? No. He couldn’t. Would he? Some Christians (probably many) would tell you my years spent cutting my skin was a time of great sin in my life. Doesn’t God know I was being abused and didn’t know how else to cope? Doesn’t He know I did the best I could to try to survive? And I did didn’t I? Yes. I did and He does and he’s turned my scars into blessings to bring hope to others suffering but so what?
The sermon I heard Sunday left me feeling so horrible and defective. Not because there was anything mean or offensive about it; there wasn’t; my pastor preached a beautiful and inspiring sermon. It just wasn’t preached to the least of us and the Least of Us that was mentioned rose above their hardships and succeeded in the face of their adversity which isn’t me. I felt like I was failing at being last in line which is a ridiculous sentiment. Like I am so poor in spirit I am failing at being poor in spirit. And I already feel like such an outsider in my own home, my church, and that gap seemed to expand into a chasm. I don’t fit in with my church members because of my poverty and I don’t fit in with the person in poverty in the sermon because I’m not strong enough to rise above my adversity. I’m not sure where I fit in at my church or if it’s even possible.
My other pastor told me once their pastor friend from a wealthy suburban church, even more well off than mine, admitted people in poverty wouldn’t feel comfortable in their congregation because of the social income gap and that was just how it was. My pastor expressed something could be done, but I keep questioning whether that pastor was right? I feel welcomed and loved at my church but I don’t feel understood or acknowledged. I’m expected to adhere to middle class social norms, not the other way around. Poverty and life growing up in the psych system has its own culture that I honestly love and am comfortable and familiar with. I don’t feel it’s sinful but is just so misunderstood but no one really takes the time to listen and learn. And sometimes my well meaning church makes me feel more oppressed ignoring this and not recognizing this.
It’s times like these that I miss the psych hospitals the most. It’s the one place overflowing with the blessed least of us’s where I have felt truly united with all people. Where all cultures could unite because we had nothing but our brokenness. My pastor told me once when I told them this that church should be more like a psych hospital but it’s not. It’s nothing like that. I wish it was but I’m not sure it’s even possible. And I feel so oppressed.
My pastor preached the last will be first and the first will be last, so it shouldn’t matter I’m in the back right now feeling oppressed because one day I’ll be first, though. Right? Come on. So what?