Opinion: Poverty Does Not Have to Limit your Dreams

If you’ve ever seen the film The Pursuit of Happyness, you will have received a classic image of what would be considered the perfect American dream becoming reality. I think it would be safe to say that, prior to the lead character (played by Will Smith) receiving a six-figure job at a company he had previously been interning with, he was certainly not happy.

There are many people out there now in less-than-ideal situations, fighting hard to “get rich or die trying.” They make overly eager sacrifices at work and consume themselves with detailed images of what life will be like once they have achieved their goal. At whatever cost, we tend to be willing to take less-than-satisfactory jobs or work ourselves to the bone, in the hope that an increase in salary will result in our being much more content and “happy” overall.

When I was a kid, I had an imagination that could top the Himalayas. In my small yet overly active mind, it seemed as if nothing was impossible. No matter what was my latest idea or invention, it never seemed to run out of fuel. In my middle-school years, I was determined to be a distinguished neurosurgeon. At that point, I was committed to studying diligently my science notes at the end of each school day.

In high school, however, I switched it up and became convinced that my calling was actually to be a professional tennis player, like my then-role model Venus Williams. Because my dreams were so big, backed up by strong determination, there appeared to be nothing that could stop me.

“The longer you stay in the rut of poverty, the more you start to adopt a poverty mindset that slowly eats away at your sense of hope and purpose until there is nothing left. No matter what you try, it seems as if things won’t ever change…”

But as I grew older and came face to face with reality, it became harder and harder to dream as vividly as I once had before. The sad thing about stepping into the “real world” is that the new terrain can often paint an unappealing picture of what life is like. Sadly, what realism (which is just a stone’s throw away from pessimism) ends up being most of the time is a cruel killer of hope and a brutal destroyer of what is the essence of the human spirit – the ability to love and dream.

In the last couple of years, my experiences living as an unemployed single woman meant I battled daily with unforgiving societal expectations that convinced me the dreams I used to have for myself were not possible. The economic barriers I faced made dreaming about the future harder to do.

The longer you stay in the rut of poverty, the more you start to adopt a poverty mindset that slowly eats away at your sense of hope and purpose until there is nothing left. No matter what you try, it seems as if things won’t ever change and you don’t know what to do.

Barely able to pay my bills every month and even buy food at times, I found myself becoming more and more discouraged as the days went by. Yet, over time, the Lord revealed to me the root of my discontented spirit. I realized that I was at fault in making money the object of my happiness. In my quiet times with the Lord, He showed me plainly that the “happiness” I was forever seeking could not be found in the temporal things of this world. In fact, my only safety lay in trusting in him alone.

Many times, we equate success and happiness with our careers, how much money we have, what kinds of cars we drive or even how well we can keep up with the latest fashions. This underlying theme even made itself known in The Pursuit of Happyness film, as Smith’s character only becomes truly “happy” once he lands the job of his dreams and knows that he will soon be in a better financial position to take care of himself and his young son (played by his actual son, Jaden Smith.)

Minutes before the closing credits, Smith heads out into a sea of people with a huge grin on his face. His excitement is apparently so extreme that his act of casually walking down the streets of San Francisco seems to be more than he can bear. In today’s world, this is what makes for “happiness.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I truly enjoyed the film and found myself relating to the lead character in so many ways. The film succeeded in tugging at my heartstrings, especially as I clearly witnessed a father’s (Smith’s) sacrificial love for his child. It’s quite clear that as long as we live in this world, we will need money to take care of ourselves and our families, so there is nothing wrong with striving to reach certain work goals.

The problem lies in the less-than-happy place we often find ourselves in when our financial situation is not at its peak. In such situations, we must appeal to the Lord to implant in us a spirit similar to the one the Apostle Paul testifies of in Philippians 4: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (verse 12).

Furthermore, as believers, we should know that true riches come from the beauty of knowing Christ (2 Corinthians 6:10, Ephesians 2:7, Colossians 1:27). That’s why, no matter where we are in life, we can cultivate a spirit of joy, because we trust in God, who is our Provider. That’s also why we don’t need to worry when we don’t see how we will pay the bills because the Lord has promised that He will take care of us, just as He considers the needs of even the littlest of his creatures (Matthew 6:26, Matthew 10:31).

I believe this is the deeper message Christ wants to teach all of us, but it can make our materialism-loving selves a bit uncomfortable. However, when we open our hearts to this profound truth, we open ourselves to an experience with Christ that will surpass the knowledge of this world. Yes, as Scotiabank says, we are richer than we think, because our treasure accounts are overflowing in Heaven.

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Alexandra Chelse
Alexandra Chelse

Alexandra Chelse is the founder and lead storyteller of Speak The Words Communications. As a child, she could always be found with a book. Now as a young adult, her love for storytelling has only deepened. She is a diversity issues blogger, mental health advocate, visionary, and woman of faith. Aside from writing, she also facilitates storytelling workshops for children, youth and adults in the community. She is seeking daily to be transformed by God's grace.

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