On Being Poor in Spirit
This post was originally published on the Integrity Blog.
Of all the virtues I hear about, being “poor in spirit” is the one that’s always left a somewhat vague impression on me. Sure, I know what it means to be patient, selfless, or kind. But being “poor in spirit”? It reminds me of a mash up of something like St. Francis of Assisi composing the Canticle of the Sun in a brown robe on a sunlit hill with a stray dog and maybe Our Lord strutting down the shore of Sea of Galilee holding some sandals, hair waving in the wind. Then in my mind it translates into something like, “Yeah, I can dig that. I gotta be more fluid, non attached, but really, like, live in the moment and be free.”
Which really just sounds like I’m on drugs, honestly.
Something I’ve been pondering lately is what the true meaning of poverty of spirit looks like. For me, a twenty something.
What I have been realizing is that being poor in spirit means a very real sense of detachment from what I perceive to be richness. It’s a very painful realization that manifesting this virtue means actively trying to let go of what seem like normal, good wishes of my heart but in actuality are unnecessary clutter. Let me explain.
I don’t really find myself wishing for the idea of wealth, in general. I perceive myself to be generally cool with being poor and in debt. But when it comes to actual, individual material things? Shoot, I realize I desire them so much.
I want everything Target, Anthropologie, and Loft has to offer. I will spend hours and hours of my life wistfully building up a board on Pinterest for that perf “someday” look. I want ombre hair. I want to fill in my eyebrows before I leave the house. I scrub my face every night and literally, no joke think: “When I wake up with clear skin, my life will be perfect.” I want the cutest little mugs and stationery and flannel collection and cool leather from Assisi. I want that aura of the cool, down to earth hipster. I turn to watch my reflection in cars as I walk by them. Folks, I have literally browsed my own Instagram and tried to think about how I would see it if I was a stranger stumbling upon it for the first time.
I will also sob in front of the mirror and in front of my poor husband because my teeth are crooked or I feel fat. I feel like dying when I check the amount of student loans I have to pay back. I get sick of my tiny apartment and I hate dirty dishes piled up and I just get downright wistful of people that “have it all together” and I cannot wait for that day to come.
News flash: that day is not coming.
Being poor in spirit means saying to yourself, in the realest way possible: “I am okay with not having what I want.”
Being poor in spirit means learning how to be truly, really content with what you have. We are not made for materialistic things, ultimately. They help us, delight us, amuse us, even inspire us. I like them a lot. But should I love them? Should I feed my wistful desires to get more, acquire more, or fuel my girlish instinct for placing future happiness on acquiring...things? It’s a tough mental habit to break.
Being poor in spirit means learning to be content amidst cars breaking down, stressing out about finances. It means being humble and paying off those loans. It means going a year without shopping. It means getting over yourself when you look at the same freaking closet week after week.
Poor in spirit means a fierce longing for eternal things, and being smart enough to know when to stop giving a crap about the clutter of life. Your thirst for beauty and aesthetics will never be satiated by birkenstocks, the perfect Instagram post, or lean body. Your desires cannot be met by things. Period.
Spiritual poverty means a profound, heartfelt abandonment to whatever God decides to throw your way.
I think St. Francis would be the type of person to laugh and say to Him: “Ha, bring it.” This is the original free spirit. Sanctifying, selfless, real, prioritized, intellectually aligned.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”