Gambling at Groceries

You know that feeling you get just before making a major financial commitment, like buying a house or a car, or making a serious investment? You think you’re ready to sign. But there’s a little nagging feeling that maybe you are making a mistake. One that will mess up your life and be hard to fix. Know that feeling?

There are people who feel that way every time they put something in the grocery cart. Next time you’re at the store, pay attention and you’ll probably see them (unless there’s an Aldi nearby and you’re at a competitor). Choosing carefully. Adding up as they go. Taking things back out of the buggy aisles later – not because they don’t want or need it but because they have traded it out for something more necessary. It gets real tense at the high price items, like diapers or laundry detergent or tampons. And then there’s a last stop before the checkout to re-add, re-consider, think about other expenses (like gas), and then take some more items out. (Btw, I read a lot of financial advice that recommends buying in bulk, but for a lot of people, there isn’t enough money to sink into one item. $15 worth of toilet paper doesn’t do much good if you have nothing to eat.)

Are you able to imagine how stressful that would be? To know that the survival of your family depends on not making a $3 mistake at the grocery store? That probably sounds like hyperbole but when you’re poor the least misstep can totally ruin you. There is no margin for error. If you don’t believe me or understand how this could be, check out this Slate article which gives a real, painful example. The tendency is to dismiss the poor as just bad at managing money but the truth is many poor people are astute money managers. They juggle multiple income streams, manage bills according to their due dates, and stretch the few dollars they get as far as they can go.

And can you imagine living as a kid under such stress? Kids don’t always know the exact source of stress but they can tell a relaxed, secure environment from a tense, insecure one. And it affects them. Negatively. It harms their development in ways that are hard to delineate and harder to repair. Now that half of all public school students in the U.S. are growing up in these conditions (see this NY Times article for more on that alarming stat), we should think and talk about how much stress our present system is placing on so many people. (Charles Blow does a good job of talking about it here.)

And, you know, I bet your local grocery store sells gift cards. Maybe you could give someone a break from the grocery gambling stress.

Pray for Trafficking Victims: Do Something

Jesus had been teaching this large crowd of people for three days. They were out in the wilderness away from any towns or food carts (hey, I’m sure they had hipsters back then too). His team was worried about everyone making it home on empty bellies which led to this exchange (Mark 6.35-37):

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

You do it. That’s what Jesus said. Kind of sounds like that old Army foxhole saying, “Get out there and do something because you’re going to die anyway.” But hang on, this is a prayer devotion, not a whip up volunteerism post. And there’s a bit more to the story. The disciples immediately pushed back on Jesus (Mark 6.38-41):

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them.

Even Jesus prayed. There is no replacement for doing good stuff like feeding hungry people or helping trafficking victims but doing stuff. And there’s no replacement for praying for help. The two go together. Especially when faced with problems that seem insurmountable. If it’s on your heart to help trafficking victims, you should do that. And you should pray for direction in how to do that and for the help you need to actually do that.

One thing that helps in praying and finding ways to plug in to work already being done to end trafficking is to know who is already doing that work in your area. A great tool for that is, “The ENGAGE TOGETHER  virtual community for justice advocates is an active and relational network of organizations, professionals, and volunteers working to eradicate human trafficking and to address those issues that lead to the existence of such evil in our world today.” Or, you can talk to your local Salvation Army, police department, or crisis pregnancy center (who come across trafficking victims in their work) and find out who is doing work.

When you find out, pray for those people and organizations and specifically pray about how you can join in and do something. Pray something like this:

Lord, I feel like the disciples did when you fed the 5000. Like the trafficking problem is too big. Like I don’t even know where to start. Thank you for setting the example that the starting point is prayer and the source of the power to help isn’t limited to me but comes from you. Thank you for all the people around me who also have a heart to help trafficking victims. Thank you for the work they are doing. Please bless them with the resources they need, especially the help they need from people like me. Help me find my place and be one of those people. [Mention some specific organizations here that you found on Engage Together or elsewhere.] Make them as successful in what they do as you were in feeding all those people with everyone full and leftovers and everything. Like those baskets of leftovers, may we be full of compassion, wisdom, and ongoing strength in this work to put an end to human trafficking.