I grew up in a home where materialistic and worldly items were of much more value than the people within the walls. I've heard others boast about how they replace "old" phones and computers every year with the newest model. I talk to people in my line of work daily that are really poverty stricken, and some that think they are. Many are wondering how they will get their next meal with no gas in their car, money for the meal, electricity to heat it up, all while enduring health restrictions that would prevent those acts even if they had the money. They are completely reliant on others to help them, and often can't afford the help. They are truly in physical need. Then there are those that think having to get rid of their cell phone would be tragic, and call that "poverty". I often ponder the differences in individual minds and life experiences that create notions of worlds in which we think we should live. Regardless, when we see the word "poverty", our minds go right to a physical state of despair.
I've mentioned I grew up in a home where there was no religion. It was a big home, with fancy furnishings put there by the best decorator money could buy. All parties were catered and black tie. My parents bought us nice things, not because they wanted it for us, but because it showed the world they were "better". We were certainly not poverty stricken in the physical sense, but with all those materialistic possessions in my home, it was empty. Empty of love, charity, the spirit, His guidance, and knowledge of His plan for us. We were spiritually in a poverty stricken state. We were beings that co-existed in the same space, separated by a lack of love towards each other. A love that could have existed through His guidance, and a knowledge of His plan for us as a family. Alma 41:11 states, "And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness." That was us.
Is it safe to use the word "poverty" in association with a spiritual deficiency? Why don't we ever associate that word with spiritual needs? There are many in spiritual despair. Our Heavenly Father's presence in our lives changes how we act, react, associate with others, think, feel...it changes everything about us. When we take care of our spiritual needs, our desire to thrive increases. Our motivation to do better, and be better increases. We, in turn, take care of others, showing charity and emanating His love. The difference is, we can't always control physical poverty, but once we have the knowledge we can always control spiritual poverty. We have the choice to pray, seek Him, and open the door to let Him in.
There are so many that outwardly appear to be in a comfortable state. As humans we tend to look at someone's physical appearance first to assess needs. If their physical appearances are that of fancy clothes and comfortably sized homes we assume they are okay. If they are sick or otherwise afflicted, we are more comfortable bringing someone a casserole, or cleaning their home than we are offering a quote from a conference talk or comforting scriptures. We fear our beliefs will be rejected, and friendships will be stressed. We can't see spiritual poverty, and sometimes the person in that state won't even know it themselves. It's a personal battle, but it's also one that can grow deeply by charitable acts of spiritual nature by those around the person struggling.
What about those that are well put together physically and come to church every week? Everyone has struggles. I wonder how many come to church every week in spiritual poverty. Is it possible to have the gospel in your life and still be in spiritual despair? Or is that like the person who thinks giving up their cell phone is poverty? It's there for them, they have the knowledge, yet they can't feel His love. Maybe they've sinned, have a physical ailment preventing comprehension of it, or they've put a wall up. There are people with those struggles, I am one of them, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. We pray, read scriptures, obey commandments, and at the end of the day we lack the joy we are taught it is supposed to bring. We feel lost, and that He has singled us out to reject. Our head says "No, He loves you. You've been taught better than those thoughts." but our hearts feel otherwise. We live in this state of confusion with a hope in the promises we've read and have been taught, and then we hope our hope won't burn us.
I know the home I was raised in, and their worshipping of worldly possessions, is not the path to happiness. I've watched my family members buy the nice car, or house, and it fulfills their needs for a time, but they quickly become dissatisfied. The emptiness I know they feel comes back, so they move onto the next big purchase, or expensive vacation. I know His love is what brings true happiness. I know that's what can let our hearts be still. When we know it's there, and radiate it for others to see, that's happiness. When spiritual poverty leaves, our lights shine bright. I see it all around me, and I yearn for the disconnect between my Heavenly Father and I to dissipate. I know I'm not near at the poverty level I was before having the gospel in my life, because I know now where I can turn. Hopefully someday I'll figure out a way to put down that wall, or humble myself enough, or fix whatever is broken in my brain, because I'd really love my light to shine bright enough to help another out of their spiritual poverty.