A couple weeks back, some friends and I were walking down the streets of Manhattan back to our cozy, heated hotel room. We’d just wrapped up an outdoor meal at a nearby restaurant but decided we needed a sweet treat to top it off; ice cream cones in hand, we made our way back to SOHO. But on the way there, a voice was calling out from the side of the road—it was a woman. She was homeless.
She asked my friends and I if we had some money to spare. For the first time in a long time, I actually did have some cash on me. But as I fumbled for my wallet, I decided to try and make conversation.
“How have things been for you during COVID?” I asked.
She explained that life has gotten much harder. Before the virus hit, she used to have enough money to get off the sidewalk and into a hotel room a couple of nights a week. Now, that’s simply not the case.
I listened, nodded, said “God bless you” and then began making my way down the block.
The size & scope of COVID-19’s reach
Don’t get me wrong, during the COVID-19 crisis, things have been challenging for all of us. Isolation from loved ones, church communities, colleagues, etc. have left many feeling disconnected and discouraged.
But sadly, for some, COVID-19 has had even more devastating material impacts.
Looking on a global scale, there are millions more people who, because of COVID-19, will find themselves in extreme poverty in 2020—50 million more to be exact. The ‘COVID-19 effect,’ as the Brookings Institution calls it, is causing major disruption to the world’s poor; so much so that 2020 will mark the first year in this century that the number of poor people in the world will actually rise.
Even in the U.S., one in five people who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March and April; to make matters worse, data showed that this pain was felt greatest among low earners.
As it turns out, it’s not the white collared workers among us who’ve borne the brunt of COVID-19’s fury; it’s those who were formally employed in our community’s restaurants, coffee shops, schools, salons, and dry cleaners. Moreover, these men and women likely possessed specialized trade knowledge and their skills may not easily translate to alternative methods of employment. They’re likely to struggle finding work not just today, but perhaps even for years to come.
Put simply: COVID-19 may have impacted us all, but that doesn’t mean those impacts were equitably distributed or experienced.
Uncertainty all around
Some reading this may be one of the many millions of people currently out of work and searching for ways to make ends meet. Others may have found their employment status (and thus, their economic stability) completely unaffected by the pandemic.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, most of us have seen the news, read the reports, and know all too well of our neighbors many needs. We’ve heard the stories of communities and families struggling in deeper and more profound ways than we are and yet, when it comes to our response, many of us are still hesitant to open our wallets. Why is that?
In times like these, it’s easy to become consumed with anxiety. If you sit trapped inside the four walls of your home long enough—despite being employed, safe, healthy, and sufficiently fed—it can be easy to start wondering what’s next in such a tumultuous world.
And with worries—very real ones—about the stability of our families, nation, & globe on the brain, it’s easy to begin putting our hope in unhealthy places. We suppose that if our job security is high, savings are plentiful, and expenses low enough, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll have ‘enough’ to sleep soundly at night.
It will never feel like ‘enough’
I had a professor once warn me that no matter how much money I made, whether I was single, married, had 2 kids, or just a couple pets, never would I ever take stock of my resources and feel like they were ‘enough.’ Humans have not been wired to easily experience contentment. In many ways, we’ve been wired to fight for something else: freedom from scarcity.
Consider what scripture reveals to us about human nature. Remember what the serpent tempted Eve with way back in the Garden of Eden? He told her she could have more. He promised her that the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was better than what God had freely given her. At the heart of this lie was the notion that God wasn’t planning on caring for her; Eve needed to go out and get the better stuff—the food that would really nourish her body and improve upon her quality of life.
But the conclusion we all must eventually come to is that the ‘enough’ sensation is an elusive one; no resources—money or otherwise—is capable of providing us with the sense of safety and security that we so deeply desire.
As followers of Christ, our response to life’s uncertainties matters. Recognize this: whether you’re a college student, teacher, restaurant worker, doctor, lawyer, or mechanic, God has called you to live with extravagant generosity. Scripture just doesn’t offer us a way around it.
Take the story in Mark 12 about the widow with two coins. I think we all know that this woman wasn’t holding on or holding back—she wasn’t counting till she reached the ‘bare minimum’ of what God asked of her. And Jesus acknowledged this saying: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They [the rich nearby] all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).
As followers of Christ, we’re called to be generous to the point of discomfort. It’s not about giving until you’ve gotten that guilty ‘I should give’ feeling off your back. It’s about giving to the point where we (the Church) can no longer place our sense of security in our bank accounts and we must rely instead on our Heavenly Father to provide for our needs. Like the early church in Corinth, we should pray that despite the trial of these difficult times, we are able to well up in rich generosity towards all our neighbors—both locally and globally (2 Corinthians 8:2).
And when we do that, we just might find that God doesn’t leave us dry but that truly, what we’ve heard about the power of generosity is still true: that joy and abundance really do follow a cheerful giver.
If you find yourself looking for ways to lean in and love generously in 2020, consider supporting organizations serving victims on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Take a look at the resources linked below:
Convoy of Hope is supporting disaster victims with food, water, and other resources.
Send Relief is engaging the pandemic and multiple disasters.
Compassion International is providing families across the globe with access to critical medical care and food.
Feeding America is equipping food banks and partners to bring food where it’s needed most.
World Relief is addressing the needs of immigrant communities across the U.S.
HOPE International is providing emergency relief and capital to the business owners they serve in 16 countries across the globe.