“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty - it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” ― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa
As a single 20-something living alone in the city, I couldn’t agree more with Mother Teresa’s thoughts on loneliness. The struggle I hear most often amongst people my age is, in some form, an issue of mental poverty. It’s funny how our culture sets us up – we are taught to be independent. To get an education, a job, your own place, to need no one. And when we achieve this, we realize just how much we both need and desire people – community. Many of us function in a state of mental poverty propagated by our culture, leaving us feeling lonely and unloved. We know it’s a lie, deep down somewhere, we know. We design our lives in such a way that we need not rely on anyone but ourselves – and then when we have no community, we think we are unloved.
Working in international development it’s easier for me to see the cultural lies in other areas of the world that breed fatalism, defeat and isolation. But, it’s much harder to see the cultural lies I have bought into within my own culture.
“On first glance, mental poverty appears less destructive than physical forms of poverty. Look again though, at toxic wastelands in the human mind at work, and you’ll often spot poverty’s deadly marks.” – 10 Marks of Mental Poverty on Blog Action Day by Dr. Ellen Weber
You only need to walk into a popular night club to see the desperate faces of mental poverty seeking relief from the debilitating voice in their head telling them they are unlovable, not good enough, a failure. I’ve been that face in that venue. And though I’ve changed my venue I’ll always be that face to a certain degree. Many of us know God is the antidote to this disease. Somehow, this answer gets lost in our daily interactions with life, and it often takes some time for this knowledge to re-emerge in our memories.
While my own experience with mental poverty as a young American is a common story, our brothers and sisters around the globe have these same struggles. Often, their mental poverty can directly effect their economic status. There is a “clear trend in which mental health interventions are associated with improved economic outcomes in low income and middle income countries.”
In short – a person’s physical poverty can be altered by transforming their mind. This is why Food for the Hungry (FH) teaches biblical worldview and works to break down cultural lies, breaking the bonds of mental poverty and helping alleviate physical poverty. The ties are strong.
I heard a story about a farmer whose crop was failing year after year. Never trying any new methods to improve his product, he had accepted that this was as good as it gets. The gods had decided. After learning about Christ and the teachings in the Bible, the farmer broke the cultural lie of fatalism and began to try new methods with his crops. As his mind was freed by Christ, his actions changed and his crops grew. As the Lord released him from mental poverty, his physical poverty also began to relinquish.
Obviously this is an abbreviated version of the story, and I’m not suggesting a prosperity gospel. The result of FH’s work often dramatically impacts individuals and communities. Imagine what our own lives would look like if we allowed Christ to fight our mental poverty.
Examine your own life – what cultural lies are you buying into?