Frederick Buechner on Poverty

IN A SENSE WE are all hungry and in need, but most of us don’t recognize it. With plenty to eat in the deep freeze, with a roof over our heads and a car in the garage, we assume that the empty feeling inside must be just a case of the blues that can be cured by a weekend in the country or an extra martini at lunch or the purchase of a color TV.

The poor, on the other hand, are under no such delusion. When Jesus says, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), the poor stand a better chance than most of knowing what he’s talking about and knowing that he’s talking to them. In desperation they may even be willing to consider the possibility of accepting his offer. This is perhaps why Jesus on several occasions called them peculiarly blessed.

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

Each morning, I receive an email from with a thought from Frederick Buechner. I recommend signing up yourself! Today’s post was on poverty. The Western world in all its’ affluence is quite hungry for something deep and meaningful, yet often unaware due to our incessant attempt to meet the needs through material fixes.

Does Buechner’s quote resonate at all with you?

It does with me. . .

It’s remarkable to me that there is such high levels of anxiety and sadness in a society so full of material goods. Weren’t those material goods supposed to make us happy? If we humans are merely material creatures, it would make sense material goods would satisfy material creatures, right? Yet, we are constantly disappointed with the rapidly fading satisfaction with our material excess.

Why?

Maybe, just maybe, its’ because we are not merely material creatures. . .

My favorite author, CS Lewis, once said in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires for which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Buechner and Lewis are in concert here. The poverty of the Western soul at its’ root is a spiritual problem. Western affluence and the marketing agencies that keep proclaiming the material gospel are incessantly moving out attention from our real need to material things. We may go through countless cars, clothes, homes, etc., yet still feel an emptiness we can’t quite shake while lying on our pillow. Even on a long-awaited, much anticipated one-of-a-kind vacation we get a gnawing feeling that something is missing, though we can’t quite put our finger on it. The reason we can’t put our finger on it is because that “it” we are trying to find can’t be touched by a finger. It’s not of this world. It’s not in this world. He, not it, made the world to be a means to an End, himself, not an end in itself.

I am prone to complicate life beyond reasonable bounds. Life need not be so complex (notice, I did not say life “need not be so hard”). “Seek first His kingdom and all else will be added” (Mt. 6). Simple, but hard.

I could give countless examples from my life where my internal hunger complicates life simply because I try to satisfy that hunger through material foods, like a new car, etc. One might think that after decades of following Christ, these seemingly elementary lessons would’ve been learned long ago. I wish. I feel like Hebrews 5:12 was written about me: In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Elementary truths:

– Your deep hunger is not merely physical and cannot be satisfied through material means.

– How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

– You don’t know your own poverty of soul.

May the Lord graciously open the eyes of our heart (most especially, mine) to see our own desperate need for his matchless mercy and grace. May we see our poverty of soul thereby be called blessed.

**Image from http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/explorations/teachers/view/18/frederick-buechner

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