So many things I knew a year or two ago I no longer know. I am far less sure of almost all areas of life but I am most assuredly sure of Life itself. I have seen and heard and experienced things I cannot unsee, unhear or unexperience. They are now forever a part of who I am, having molded me into the woman God created, and continues to create, me to be.

There’s a lot of talk among friends and coworkers about the words we use to describe those we work with. We all agree labels for people are not the way to go, but words are the currency humans use to communicate, so how do we do that in a way that is dignifying, not dehumanizing?

The danger of some words is they imply our goal is to change that particular attribute about a person.

For example, we work with “the poor”.

It has only recently struck me that in saying we work with “the poor”, we could possibly, albeit unintentionally, be communicating there is something wrong with “the poor” that needs fixing. We could be communicating we are working to change the fact that they are “poor,” and because of our cultural context and American idealism, I fear this communication gap may be taking place.

Wordsmithing, maybe, but hang with me.

I think this is important because it stems from and feeds into our “we can fix you” white middle-class culture. (If you aren’t part of that culture, you’ve surely seen it in action. If you need to see it again in parody form, White Savior Barbie is there for you.)

Last weekend I spoke at a fundraiser for one of my coworkers and afterwards was approached by a man who wanted to “brainstorm” solutions for some of the needs mentioned during our presentation. A year or two ago I would have welcomed his thoughts. Now I know the slow work of God is not mine to control. And I know men like this know very little to nothing about my neighbor’s actual lives and it takes a Holy Spirit size dose of humility to enter into these brainstorm session as an outsider.

Ideas started flying, all in the vein of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” ideology. I tried my best to explain the challenges my neighbors face when, applying for a job for example. Each time this man suggested something else, equally as unattainable as his last suggestion.

The problem with this kind of “improve your situation by your own efforts” thinking is, it’s not a universal truth. Contrary to what my personal upbringing taught me, all opportunities are not created equal.

The opportunities afforded me as a 15-year-old – a stable home and family life, parents with business connections, transportation and expendable time to transport their teenage daughter to and from work – landed me my first job, which led to a solid string of employment, until I chose to become a stay-at-home mom. The opportunities afforded my neighbors at 15 years of age – a traumatic home and family life, impoverished living conditions, neglectful and abusive parents which often leads to self medicating, promiscuity and teenage pregnancy – are incomparable. Expecting teenagers from these drastically different backgrounds to end up in the same place, without longstanding and intentional prayer and relationship, is insane.

Most of us think the goal of introducing the poor, whether overseas or in America, to Jesus is synonymous with climbing the economic ladder.

Friends, that is not the goal.

Knowing Jesus is not correspondent to having wealth, or even to not being poor. I think most of the world gets this, but as Americans, particularly my brand of American, we tend to forget.

The goal, with any human being made in the image of God (NEWS FLASH: That’s all of them.) is to empower and encourage our neighbors to be the men and women God created them to be.

The goal is to call forth the imago Dei in them. To invite them to look into the face of Jesus and ask, What do you think about me? The goal, is to walk alongside them, until the wheels fall off, reminding them every day, that He who began a good work in them is going to bring it to completion, one glorious day.

Our goal is to remind them God delighted in them all along.

They may or may not move into a higher economic bracket.

And the rest of us need to be ok with that.



  1. BrookeM May 24, 2016

    I love this post, Lindsy! I have thought, felt and experienced (i.e. those oh-so-helpful brainstormers) all of this. And the longer I am in relationship with “the poor,” the more I’m bothered by calling them that. I’m not sure what other term to use, though, when trying to engage my middle class friends on the topic. None of our identifying labels (disadvantaged, economically challenged, impoverished, marginalized….) are any better.

    • Lindsy Wallace May 24, 2016

      I’m glad to hear it resonated with you Brooke! Yes, we’ve had long conversations about language and how to communicate with others. Language is tricky, humans are far more complex than mere words!

  2. Eryn Jones May 24, 2016

    Sister- so so good! David and I were just talking about this very thing last night: Labels for ourselves, our kids (because our kids get all sorts of labels- not “poor” but perhaps “hard” or “special needs” etc.) and others and how futile our “goals” for others all are in the end. When I realized that my job as a parent wasn’t to teach them how to pull themselves up out of their previous systems and ways of thinking, but to just call forth the bits of God in them- them, just them. To honor them in all their them-ness, that was SO freeing for me as a parent! This is SUCH a good word, Lindsy! And very heavenly timed for me :)

    • Lindsy Wallace May 24, 2016

      I love that Eryn! Yes, it translates directly into parenting! I’ve recently been coming to terms with it as well, realizing I can not change them, and that’s not even my role. I CAN help them become who God created them to be and what an honor that is!

  3. Kerri May 25, 2016

    I absolutely loved this post. It resonated with me on a whole new level and I am so thankful for your openness and honesty. More people need to hear this message. I am a social worker in Philadelphia. There is now a new trend to move away from labels such as the ones you’ve mentioned above and instead use those words as adjectives to describe ones situations. Rather than saying “the poor” it would be “individuals experiencing poverty”. I have found this to be a more dignifying and humanizing way to describe these individuals. I hope this helps! Again, thank you so much for your heart and your life- so dedicated to the Lord and His people!


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