Daily Devotions

Poverty and the Human Brain

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If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. (Leviticus 25:35)

Through the years I have heard people with abundance decrying the laziness of those in poverty. It truly is a lack of empathy. If these blessed people were raised in poverty, I doubt many of them would have been able to drag themselves out of poverty either. Poverty affects the whole person, including the brain.

Tara Gracia Mahewson’s The Atlantic article entitled, “How Poverty Changes the Brain,” addresses the issue of the negative effects of poverty on the brain. Mahewson points out, “When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.” A person in poverty struggles not only with her/his environment and the lack of opportunities, but also, he/she must wrestle with how the brain responds amidst the want.

Sure, each person has moments of stress, where the limbic system is cranking out too many stress messages, but poverty is continual, so too is the constant stress overload. It isn’t laziness, but the brain sending false information to other parts of itself, adding to the emotional toll. It isn’t surprising that too few people are able to function, let alone thrive in such conditions.

Therefore, the idea of class bias is all the more arrogant and hurtful. Mahewson continues, “when brain capacity is used up on these worries and fears, there simply isn’t as much bandwidth for other things.” I hope this is a moment to judge less and appreciate more, the pain of poverty. Rather than ridicule, it is vital to find ways of offering hope and opportunity. Only when stress is reduced, is the individual able to think beyond survival. Today, pray for those of us with abundance, to empathize and appreciate the pain of poverty. Then, we will have the compassion to respond in a positive manner.

Stop Spewing All Over Everyone

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Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

One day I was behind someone in the grocery store who was yelling at the cashier. I didn’t get the entire conversation, but it had something to do with the guy’s credit card not working. It wasn’t something the cashier could do anything about, but that didn’t stop the guy from belittling the woman who didn’t deserve his filthy mouth. I thought of confronting him, but knew it would only keep him around longer, so I just apologized to her on his behalf, loud enough for him to hear.

I can only imagine the negative stuff going on in his life that caused him to drip his venom all over the cashier and the rest of the store. In his irrational rage he diminished himself more than the person he attempted to belittle. Most of us have lost our temper and spewed our misplaced anger in the wrong direction more than once. That isn’t an excuse, but a call to action.

The way to move beyond the rage, is to stop, breathe, and then remember who we are. We are a child of God and not an animal. We have the ability to control our emotions. Rage is controlled when we remind ourselves of all we are grateful for in life. Rage occurs when we lose sight of all that is good and focus entirely on the negative moment. The slightest recall of gratitude can shake us back to the reality of who we are and the blessings we have in life.

Today, pray for the patience to control the occasional rage. Then, pray for those who must put up with other people’s negativity every day. Finally, pray for the Holy Spirit to cool the anger with a shot of gratitude. Recognizing the cruelty and stupidity in taking out one’s rage on an innocent person should be enough of a reminder that we do not ever want to look and act that outrageous. The more self-aware we become, the better we are at controlling our negative emotions. Then we can reflect the divine love God calls us to project each day.

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