Six Things I Learned During my Time of Poverty

When you have little, there is much you can learn.

That’s what I have found from my experience with poverty in Canada. Though we may, at times, look at poverty as a bump on the road to a greater destination, our journey can offer us many surprising gifts if we choose to be open to receiving them.

While I admit I have never been the most gracious student when it comes to receiving lessons that have been given to me, looking back I can now see how valuable they truly have been. Your experiences with poverty are, no doubt, much different from mine, but I offer these insights to you in the hope that you too will come to learn and appreciate the gifts you already have (no matter how small) and will receive during such a time.

1. Maximize the Resources on Hand

I remember how learning to make do with what we had was hard at first. There were days when there was less than $10 in my bank account and no food in the fridge. While I found myself complaining about this quite a bit in the early days, I came to realize that quite a lot of our energy was exerted in doing so.

I then turned to the Word of God to receive guidance on what to do about our situation. I remembered something Jesus said after feeding the 5,000, as described in John 6. Although everyone would no doubt have been more than satisfied from the day’s meal, the Lord instructed his disciples to still “gather up the fragments that remain, (so) that nothing be lost” (verse 12). From this, I learned that it is possible to do wonders with even the little you have.

Sometimes, I longed to have a three-course meal that would fill my stomach, but now I am more than content with a simple meal of lentil soup and a salad, a creation I so often put together from leftover veggies I find at the back of my fridge.

2. Appreciate the Little, But Still Valuable, Things in Life

There’s nothing like those crisis moments, in which you realize how little you really have, to teach you a thing or two about where true value comes from. Though my family may have lacked some material possessions, we still had much to be grateful for. We just had to open our eyes to see it.

The fact was that I still had a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes on my back and my health. That was more than a lot of people could and can say in our world. Also, more than ever, I became incredibly grateful for the quality time I was able to share with my family. It was more time than I would have had working steadily. Sometimes, it’s the little things that hold the most real value.

3. Remember to Share

We are naturally individuals focused on self-preservation. If we sense our lives are in danger, we strive to protect ourselves. Those of us living in poverty may experience difficulties when it comes to being intentional about our giving. This is because we have so little to give in the first place and fear that giving anything away will risk the loss of it all.

In my early experience with poverty, I would often hide food in the fridge (we shared a home with three other individuals) because I didn’t want all of the food I had sacrificed for to disappear and so end up with nothing. It’s a concept that appears good, true and logical – every man and woman for them self. But if we take a look at the biblical story of the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16), we find a portrayal that challenges this idea.

The widow is visited by Elijah (she doesn’t know initially that he is a prophet) and willingly shares her meal with the strange man, even though she knows she will have nothing left for herself and her son afterwards. After reading this story, I recognized I was in error for wanting to hoard things for myself. Now, I am at a place where I strive to think less about myself and more about others. This includes sharing the little I have, even if it came at great sacrifice.

4. Prepare for Times of “Famine”

In life, we will all go through various seasons, each of which offers us lessons that can carry us from one stage to the next. Some periods we pass through are better than others, but we can be sure that times of financial hardship, no matter how bad, will not last forever.

Thus, in our moments of abundance, we have a responsibility to use our time, resources and money wisely. A good example to draw on is the biblical story found in Genesis, where we see Joseph appointed to put aside food during the times of plenty to prepare the people for an upcoming famine (Genesis 41, Genesis 47:13-27). In our “times of plenty,” we should likewise learn how to be diligent in saving money and be ready should a “famine” (job loss, lack of stable income, etc.) strike in the future.

5. Take the Time to Bless Others

Riches exist in many different forms, apart from money and material possessions. For example, you can experience riches through the positive relationships you cultivate with those around you. The fact is we miss much when we become so lost in trying to address what we regard as an urgent need to attain material wealth but neglect the potentially rich moments we can enjoy with others.

In my case, despite being unemployed and possessing very little, I discovered a new love and appreciation for my family through the quality time I was able to spend with them. I also was given the opportunity to become involved in ministry, discover new interests and further open my eyes to the needs of those hurting around me.

6. Accept Help If It is Offered to You

Pride is a very ugly thing, something that can blind us to accepting the truth about ourselves and our situation. At one point during my family’s time of poverty, our hydro was shut off and we experienced having no water or electricity in our home. Because we had no water, we resorted to taking showers at a local recreation centre.

We also had to learn how to accept help from others, when it was extended to us. In fact, there were many times when God made it possible for us to take care of our needs thanks to the generous hands of God-fearing individuals. So remember that whatever situation you find yourself in, asking for help is never a sign of weakness. It is, rather, a sign of strength.

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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 community advocate, idealist, 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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