I was late as usual but noticed her standing on the edge of the line of women. Her clothes were torn, filthy, and hung loosely on her slim frame. The smell of dirt and body odor wafted through the air. Her matted hair held bits of straw stuck in its tangled overgrowth, and her hands and nails were stained with dirt that wouldn’t wash clean. Her shoes, worn with holes, were covered in dry mud, and her frayed pant legs dragged as she shuffled.
We stood at the entrance to the “Stations of the Cross,” a guided walk for the women in our church. Feeling rushed and unsettled, I looked forward to being brought into His quiet, holy presence.
As we began our walk, I saw others holding back, leaving space as she moved through. I caught her eye, and she looked away; determination seemed to move her on. Walking alone, she lingered at each station, searching each verse and scene, thoughtful and reverent.
I’m sure there were women who’d love to offer her food and clothing. It is, after all, the hallmark of a loving Christian. But wouldn’t that have missed a more powerful lesson?
As I watched her, conflict arose inside me; I am that woman. Yes, I had a job, new clothes, and my hair and make-up done, but as we moved along, the truth slowed my pace.
While she walked in worldly poverty, I was walking in spiritual poverty.
Rushed and impatient, I began this walk as an observer, not a worshiper. Undistracted by self-sufficiency, her focus reflected a heart prepared to receive Jesus, to soak in the riches of blessing and honor, to partake of His banquet of nurture and plenty in spirit. Yet, it was the following realization that brought my heart to its knees; she knew Hagar’s God; she knew El Roi. She had come to be seen by Jesus.1
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The topic of spiritual poverty doesn’t come up often in the church, but it should. The term ‘poor in spirit’ refers to a cowering, cringing beggar, helpless to meet their own needs. Most days, my focus was on what I brought to the table, not that I was a cowering beggar. Like the Pharisee in the parable of the Tax collector, most of us tend to place confidence in our abilities.2 We attempt to justify ourselves and take on the cloak of acceptability. It’s easy to neglect the extent of our neediness, especially on the good days.
We all do it; we all have reasons to hide from a poverty of spirit, and like everyone else, I knew I had broken places, but it seemed useless to dwell on it. What if I allowed my cracks to show and, like Humpty Dumpty, couldn’t be put back together? I usually avoided the hard work of growth, but I was done living in the shallows; my heart longed to be seen by Jesus.
Our relationship with God doesn’t grow unless we embrace our weakness, rebellion, and pain. It was uncomfortable to admit I was incomplete, but my soul craved the blessing of redress in areas that needed God’s touch. Wasn’t this the goal of my faith? Wasn’t this reason I had come today?
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness
with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.”
2 Cor. 3:18
The admission of my poverty helped me receive the love, healing, and nurture I needed to walk through the halls of pain and loss. Each time I offer God my heart to be molded by His Spirit, I bring my broken, hurried, splintered ways to His banquet, and He feeds them with healing and life. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, I am made new, and it’s His scars I see, not mine.
I came that day hoping to be delivered into the quiet presence of God, but He gave me so much more. Through my unexpected sojourner, He gently nudged me toward Himself. In my heart, I prayed, “Give me an undivided heart…”3 remove the obstacles, heal the hurts, and walk with me.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matt. 11:29 ESV
God opposes the proud because we’re self-consumed to the point there’s no room for Him.4 How was I going to make room? I thought of my sojourner again. What was her story? How had she found room in her heart? What caused her to run from life?
Hoping to find her again, I remembered the angel’s question, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”5 Hagar had run to the desert. She didn’t know where she was going but anywhere was better than where she’d been. I feel that way sometimes too.
Just as Hagar ran, I, too, rushed to this sacred walk looking for an escape from a dry, deserted place, and, I imagine, my sojourner came from a desert of her own. Although worlds apart, I imagined a connection, us three. Jesus heard our cries and met us there. He called each of us by name, knowing full well where we’d come from, stirring our hearts to move toward Him.
There is the beauty of spiritual poverty; it creates a hunger for God and drives us toward Him in a new, reverent way. When we’re finally ready to throw off our tired approach to life, we’re prepared to face the hard work of growth because growth is less painful than spiritual poverty.
I didn’t see her again that day but her purpose in my life had been accomplished. She’d shown me the way of reverence. I slowed my pace and began to search for God in the same way I’d search for sea glass on the beach. No need for striving, but a hushed focus full of refreshment, wonder, and simplicity, making room to see and be seen by God. It’s a thoughtful, breath-filled way, the way of reverence.