What is Emotional Poverty?
The term “poverty” is most often associated with a lack of financial and material resources, and for good reason. When it comes to sustaining life, food and shelter are certainly the most essential needs. But survival is about more than having these basic needs met. Poverty can actually be experienced in a ways having nothing to do with a lack of money, food or shelter. Another type of poverty a person might experience is emotional poverty.
Emotional poverty is a deprivation of essential needs that are connected to emotional and mental health. Counseling professionals have identified several crucial needs for human beings. A few of these include:
- the security of a stable home life
- the giving and receiving of attention
- a sense of control over one’s environment
- a sense of belonging and connection with a wider community
- meaning and purpose
- a sense of achivement
- a sense of emotional connection, friendship and intimacy with others
A lack of these emotional resources, interestingly, is not limited to any particular demographic or set of circumstances. It may be a result of the stigmatization of financial poverty. But it could result from a loss of a job or a tough home environment, strained relationships or undiagnosed or addressed mental health issues. So really, anyone can experience it.
And while emotional poverty is not a clinical disorder, it can lead to problematic responses such as anger, anxiety, isolation and a host of additional negative behaviors. This type of poverty often manifests itself through loneliness, mental challenges, relational issues or difficulty with life or coping skills.
A Biblical Understanding of Emotional Poverty
The Christian’s response to emotional poverty comes from the imperative given by Jesus himself: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” When we see others experiencing any kind of lack, it is our responsibility to respond. Jesus modeled this with unrelenting action-based compassion for others. His service was not limited to those who were poor. We often find him associating with people who are rejected, isolated, mentally unique or challenged, and grieving. He embraces them, does life alongside them, and commissions them for Kingdom Work.
How can we proactively meet emotional needs for our neighbors? Paul the Apostle gives a helpful model for as he ministers to his young protege Timothy:
Everybody needs to be loved.
Paul calls Timothy his beloved son (2 Timothy 1:2). He doesn’t just love him inwardly. He expresses it. People around us need to know we love them. We need to tell them they are precious.
Everybody needs someone to pray for them.
Paul prays for Timothy consistently (2 Timothy 1:3). Not only is prayer a powerful tool for accessing physical and spiritual resources, it also lets a person know they are regarded. It gives them dignity as they feel a sense of importance to others, and to God. Regular intercessory prayer offered to a person absolutely fills up a person’s emotional bank.
Everybody needs somebody to believe in them.
Paul reassures Timothy that he is capable of great things (2 Timothy 1:5). Like Paul, we must speak life into others. We must encourage potential and affirm in a way that builds up confidence and boldness. People need a cheerleader when they are emotionally downcast. They need to know that someone sees them, and is proud of them.
Everybody needs somebody that will help them.
Finally, Paul challenges Timothy with advice to help him succeed (2 Timothy 1:6). As Christ- followers, we need to be assertive and available as a resource to others. We can provide biblical truth, wise counsel, accountability and support. As God’s ambassadors, we should give it freely. It is our highest duty to connect people to the ultimate resource—Jesus.
A Missional Solution for Relieving Emotional Poverty
At Feed the Need Missions, it is one of our missional objectives to relieve emotional poverty. Each week, in communities across Texas, Feed the Need Missions trailers roll up, and volunteers assemble to prepare and serve free hot meals for anyone in the community. While the meal does relieve hunger and meet practical, tangible needs, we often say this is just the tool that opens the door to providing emotional, social and spiritual filling that is also a desperate need.
The meals we serve and the consistency of our presence creates intimacy. We are actively working to build a sense of community and belonging, of acceptance. We are creating security, giving attention, and building relationships that allow us to minister to people in their emotional need. Our guests are also invited to serve alongside us, providing them an opportunity to feel a sense of achievement and purpose.
At Feed the Need Missions, we are about meeting people in every type of poverty. If you are lonely, isolated, or hurting, we invite you to come and let us serve you. If you are ready to step in to a mission field where you can practically meet the emotional needs of others as a Christ-follower, Feed the Need Missions has a place for you to serve and help. Everyone is welcome. You are welcome.