The poor aren’t lazy . . . they are exhausted.
This quote from a Toronto Star article on a UN report exposing Canada’s less than stellar achievements on fighting poverty and food deprivation. I can relate somewhat. I’m tired. Exhausted, worn out… tired.
In 2009 I quite my job of 9 years with the City of Toronto. I was an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for the city’s EMS service and I was pretty good at my job. I made $83k a year as a training officer, plus benefits, pension, etc. I had come to Christ about 4 years before and was feeling called to “something else”. I was also loosing my patience for the politics around the job, the negative attitudes (that I was certainly a contributor too), and the cynicism that comes from numerous promises that things will get better but they don’t – they just get worse. The rotating shift work was having a detrimental effect on my health and I would routinely go days without sleeping, even after seeking medical help. I once stayed up 4 days in a row without sleep, because I just couldn’t fall asleep.
I came to Christ shortly after my Dad passed away at age 63. He worked for the same service, though in a different job. At the age of 31 I realized that if I only live as long as my Dad, I was effectively middle aged. I didn’t want to spend the majority of my life doing the same job day in and day out, no matter how important to society it was. I was also in a good financial position having received some money through a couple of inheritances. I had already been accepted to Tyndale University, so after I came back from a trip to the UK in the fall of 2008, I decided to submit my resignation effective Jan 1, 2009.
It’s hard to leave that kind of security behind, but I knew in my spirit one way or the other I’d make it ok. 2009 was a year of lots of change: I left my job, started University, was evacuated from my condo for three months and lived in my mom’s basement, moved into residence and sold my condominium. Oh, and I started dating a great girl and got engaged on Dec 23, 2009.
When we got married in August 2010 our first apartment was designed by Danté, it was terrible. Beyond the cockroaches that got into our food and living spaces, we also lived in fear of bed bugs (though we thankfully avoided those). We didn’t have screens on our windows for the longest time, so it was next to impossible to regulate temperature or flying things. I don’t know how we missed the warning signs, but we did. I was struggling to finish school and started working 10/hrs a week to preach at a local church. We were busy and scared but we just kept telling each other we just had to push through. The problem is, we keep telling ourselves that. Just keeping pushing and we’ll get some down time. Keep pushing, keep pushing. In 2012 we sold my car and took my wife’s car off the road to save money on insurance, gas, etc. We’ve suffered many personal tragedies in 2012, including the loss of my wife’s mother to cancer.
I graduated from my BA in Nov 2012 and have started my Master of Divinity. My wife works full-time at a Theological Bookstore and I work part-time at the same bookstore and pastor part-time. We intentionally took a break from school this semester so we could have more time together. It hasn’t happened. Instead, I end up working almost 7 days a week and of course, because I’m a Pastor we rarely get a full weekend off together.
Pushing through: when does it end?
I started realizing a while back that I can’t just keep pushing through. I’m exhausted. I’m going to collapse at the pulpit one day because I’m so tired. On the one hand, I need both jobs because we rely on the income from all three jobs to get through the month. On the other hand, if I work myself into exhaustion and end up needing to take a week off to recover, we’d be worse off.
If you visited our apartment you wouldn’t suspect we made as little as do. We have a nice TV, a Mac Mini, MacBook Air, iPad, and we both have iPhones. We also have bookshelves overflowing with almost 800 books, which is actually a pretty small library for two academics. We always have money for food and eat out once or twice a month. Thankfully, we do not have to use credit, we pay cash for everything and are on a budget and very careful with our money. And, yes, we manage to tithe. What you wouldn’t know though is that the TV is almost 8 years old and was bought when I made a lot more money. The Mac Mini was a gift when my old iMac died so we could get our schoolwork done and the MacBook Air was a graduation gift. Most of the “nice” things we get are in one way or another gifted to us or just not that new. We don’t have a cable subscription, instead we use iTunes and AppleTV. We’re going to the spa tomorrow, but we aren’t paying for it, family is.
We are blessed with amazing family and friends. I know that no matter what financial tragedy may or may not befall us, we will always have a place to sleep and food in our stomachs; or at the very least, I would ensure my wife ate regularly. Everything else may disappear but we won’t be living under a bridge. Many can’t say that. So, for that alone, I am eternally grateful to God for His provision.
Low pay, high hours
We are tired though. The problem with low paying jobs isn’t that the people who work them are lazy, it’s that we often have to work more hours just to make ends meet. When I made a lot more money, taking a day off was no big deal. Even I didn’t have sick benefits, missing a week of work wouldn’t have destroyed me (mind you, I worked with plenty of people who lived far above their means).
When I made a lot of money, I certainly didn’t look down on the those with less (I don’t think), but I never thought about the concept of needing to work longer to make more. The job with the city was my first “real” job, so I never really understood how much I made and how secure it made me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully support my civil servant friends. They work hard, most of the time, and do important work under ridiculous resource restraints.
I’m tired. I’m exhausted and I need a break. My wife needs a break.
Underemployed and minimum wage
The technical term for us “under employed”. We’re smart, educated and motivated. We don’t ever expect to make a lot of money, not in ministry. I don’t expect I will ever see the sweet deal I had at the city ever again. I just know that where we are is unsustainable. My church is not a rich one and I know the Lord has provided for the funds to employ me, so I don’t feel ripped off. Same with the bookstore. We sell theological books at 20% off reatil, so our profit margins are razor thin. So, when I hear people say they need to raise the minimum wage, I really don’t think that’s the answer. I’m not trying to be political, just realistic. I make $11/hr at the bookstore and $15/hr preaching. Minimum wage in Ontario, Canada is $10.25 so my wife and I don’t even get paid MW anyway. If however MW is raised to $17/hr as some have suggested (that is supposedly the living wage in Canada), I simply wouldn’t have my bookstore job and neither would any of my co-workers. My boss isn’t cheap, she simply doesn’t have the cash flow. We could raise our prices but then that would make it harder to compete with the likes of Chapters and Amazon. So, given the choice between a temporary job at $11/hr or no job at all, I’ll take the $11/hr, thanks.
I’m young, I’m educated, I’m willing to work and more importantly, I want to serve God. So, I have to trust the He will provide for our needs.
I’m tired. I’m exhausted and I need a break. My wife needs a break.
Need a break
I’m looking forward to my job at the church ending. Not because I’m going to be happy to leave, I’m really not. I’m just looking forward to a bit of a break. We’ve saved enough money that we can replace my income for a couple of months so I pray that God will provide a replacement position, preferably a single full-time job, during that time. I am thankful for a wife who supports my decision to step down from preaching and my desire not to collapse from exhaustion. If I don’t find a position in that time, we still have room to cut. We can suspend our cellphones and reduce our internet to a cheap-o plan for e-mail and our MagicJack. If things got really bad, we could fire sale our Mac Mini and MacBook Air.
“The poor aren’t lazy,” said Norman, 52, “they are exhausted.”
For the vast majority, this is true. I haven’t done our taxes for last year, but I know we live just above the poverty line in Ontario. I don’t make this statement looking for pity, it’s just an observation. I don’t feel poor. I don’t think I have a “poor” mindset. I’ve heard it said that poor is a state of mind and a lack of cash is called “broke”. We are grateful beyond measure for God’s provisions, but our physical, mental, and spiritual capacity to continue is quickly draining away.
Who’s to blame?
I do want to make it clear, my financial situation is a result of our choices to return to school and I’m not blaming anyone else but me. I could have kept my high paying and secure job, but I wanted something different and decided to take a risk. Yes, most of the time I’m happy I did it. If for no other reason than my marriage. I love my wife and I’m happy to go through this refiner’s fire as long as we can go through it together.
True, some of the circumstances we’ve found ourselves in would be terrible regardless of how much money we have, i.e., a mother-in-law dying of cancer, but this is our life and we are responsible for us. It is not the governments jobs to save me, though it would be great if they didn’t do anything to make life more difficult. This isn’t to say the government can’t have a role, particularly for those who are much worse off and/or suffering from mental illness for instance, but thankfully we are not in a position to have to consider using food banks, welfare, or anything else like that. I’ve volunteered at them though and my current church runs a dinner that feeds 150 people every Wednesday. Those are the people I want to help and maybe this experience is enabling me to see their world a bit better, to understand them more. As I already mentioned, we are blessed with amazing family and friends and we will never go hungry or without adequate shelter.
There is perhaps no real point to telling you this story, other than I thought I should write it down. If you’ve stuck it out until the end, thanks for reading. We would certainly appreciate your prayers.