“Poor” and “rich” are such relative terms. An American teenager in a wealthy town considers himself poor if he owns a secondhand car. An African teenager in a remote village considers himself rich if he owns a secondhand pair of shoes. The former sees himself as having less than those around him, and therefore poor. The latter sees himself as having more than those around him, and therefore rich. One man’s poor is another man’s unspeakably rich.
Sometimes how poor or rich we feel is based not on a comparison to others, but on a comparison to where we’ve been at other stages in our own lives. My senior year of college, I bought my first car: a tiny, beat-up Honda Civic hatchback with a lot of miles on it. I loved that car. I felt like a millionaire driving that car. That car made me feel like I owned the world. Owning that car made me feel anything but poor. And yet, if I were to own that car today, I’d feel anything but rich. I’d feel inadequate. I might even feel ashamed that I hadn’t become financially successful enough to afford a nicer car. I would absolutely, positively feel poor.
But aside from the financial meaning of the word “poor,” we often use the word “poor” to describe our emotional status. A person who is socially isolated and lonely feels poor; a person who has close bonds with family and friends feels rich. A person who is fulfilled and who finds meaning in his own life feels rich, no matter how poor he is financially. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is found in the lyrics of the song “If I Were a Rich Man,” from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye the milkman begins the song by lamenting his poverty, but goes on to dream about having the time to spend at the synagogue in prayer, and realizes that his faith makes him rich, rather than his poverty making him poor. He opens with “If I were a rich man, all day long I’d ‘biddy-biddy-bum,’ if I were a wealthy man. I wouldn’t have to work hard, if I were a ‘biddy-biddy’ rich man.” But by the end of the song, he states the true richness: “If I were rich I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray, and maybe have a seat by the eastern wall. And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, seven hours every day – that would be the sweetest thing of all.”
As a stay-at-home mom, I sometimes struggle with feeling poor. I don’t have any income of my own to speak of, and even though our family has shared finances, I can’t help but feel personally poor at times. But then I look at the treasures I have the privilege of caring for every day, and I realize that I am anything but poor.