One think I find difficult about caring for three young children is the limits on my time and physical proximity. I am limited to a certain extent in where I can be when and to what I can commit. In my secret heart of hearts, sometimes this feels pretty good. My priorities are to care for kids right now and sometimes other things can go by the wayside. But, if I’m honest, it’s not just having kids that can slow me down. I had our first son while I was finishing my Master’s degree and when I look back I see that when I was in school my focus was, well, school. Oh, and I got married 2 years through my undergrad. Transitioning from school to marriage and school to kids and school to kids and ministry means that I honestly do have limits on my time and resources. However, this is a reason and should not be an excuse.
When I talk about being limited and saying, “not right now” to things, that is legitimate in many areas. I’ve known times when my priorities weren’t straight and certain elements of my life suffered. Saying no can be a good thing, but in my search to be a woman who fears the Lord and is praiseworthy by him, there are certain things that are nonnegotiable. Proverbs 31:20 is one of these.
Proverbs 31:20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
The reason I see this verse in this passage having so much weight is because of the constant teaching through the Old and New Testaments about caring for the poor and needy. There were special laws set in place by God for the Israelites on how to treat those who were in need of extra help, financial, physical, spiritual, or emotional. God sees those around us who need the help of others and his heart bleeds for them. So, what have I been doing lately to help the poor and needy? Not a lot, really. It seems hard in everyday life to find the poor and needy. Who are they anyway?
Well, sometimes the poor and needy are obvious; that person on the street who sleeps where they sit, that single mom with 4 mouths to feed and a broken down van, that child on the television or the missions presentation with the distended belly and hollow eyes? These are the obvious needy around us.
As I’m traipsing after my 1-year-old and baby, just trying to maintain, how do I help the needy?
One option that many people choose is to offer financial assistance. This is important and so many people are in need of the financial help we in North America can offer those in our own neighborhood and around the world. Offering what financial assistance in whatever way I can is one option for me to help the poor and needy.
There are those, too, who are poor and needy and it’s not just in the financial way. When we try to help someone our conscience can be cleared by giving money to help solve the problem. But is this enough? Being poor and needy in the Bible does not just mean financial need. People who are poor and needy also include those who don’t know Christ, who have these deep dark holes in their lives, despair and discontent that they might not even recognize. If this need is greater than financial and extends to the spiritual, emotional, and physical, is taking care of the financial enough to fulfill the mandate that God has give us?
What about the gift of our time? That isn’t an easy one for me right now. It would involve childcare and scheduling and loss of family time. I can’t commit to a bi-weekly volunteer position right now. But, there are small things I can do to help. I can pack care packages for the women’s prison, sort food bank items, fill that Shoebox around Christmas. There are small things that I can do with my time that can free up someone else’s time so they can go out and serve in a way that I will have to wait to do.
When I look at this verse, a woman who fears the Lord is someone who opens her arms and extends her hands. What does that mean? Extending your hand can have financial connotations and donating your time is important but the verse goes beyond that. She extends or opens her arms. What does that imply?
We extend our arms for many reasons, to welcome people into our home, to hug, to carry. What would it look like for me to welcome, embrace, carry those around me who are poor and needy? Hospitality can be a powerful tool. I once heard the saying that hosting and hospitality were different. Hosting can imply that the focus is on you, with all the need to clean, have the perfect meal prepared. Hospitality focusses on the person who is coming into your home. Hospitality means sharing what you have with them and not caring so much on how you come across. You know people who have this gift. No matter what they serve, no matter what condition your house is in, you always feel welcome and cared for. You have a wonderful time and leave feeling refreshed.
At this time in my life when it seems that my time and physical proximity resources are limited hospitality is a tool I can use to care for the poor and needy. Maybe there is that person who you met at class or work, that other mom with a kid your age, what would it mean to invite them over for coffee, a meal, a playdate? People have so many needs we don’t know about and aren’t apparent on the surface. Sometimes one of the best ways we can help is by offering part of ourselves, our friendship, letting people into our lives so that we can be this representation of Christ’s love here on earth. How can we show people Christ’s love if we never let them near us?
In offering using my hands and arms to help those who need it I need to remember that there are times in my life when I have been needy. I have needed someone’s love and hospitality. I have needed someone to help me out of this physical hardship or emotional dark place that I was enduring. When I’m looking at ways to help the poor and needy I need to think of how I would like to be treated if I was in their shoes. How did I want to be treated when I was in that emotionally difficult place? What did I need? I also look to people who have extended themselves meaningfully to me and try to see what it was they did or said that helped me and made me feel loved. If we think back, I’m sure we all have people in our lives who did that for us.
Extending myself to those who are poor and those who have need means being thoughtful. It means noticing the people around me who I can help, who I can welcome, who I can love. Maybe it’s that new family at church who would love to come over for lunch. Maybe it’s that new person at work who is new in town. Maybe it’s that single mom who’s pregnant and could use those baby clothes you still have. Maybe it means donating your time to help fix a car for someone who can’t afford a mechanic. (My husband is really generous about that) Loving people in this way means using what you have to help them and show them God’s love. So, if I want to be a woman who fears the Lord, I look at what I have and extend that to those who need it. It can be big and small but it needs to be a priority for me because it is a priority for God.