I am a Beggar

January 30, 2014 | 29 comments
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I am a beggar.

I view King Benjamin’s discussion of the beggar as the ultimate Mormon discourse on desert and wealth. Hugh Nibley spoke much on the topic as well. By his own admission, Nibley was drawing upon King Benjamin.

Mosiah Chapter 4:

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need ; and ye will not suffer that the “beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

King Benjamin

 

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just-

18 But I say unto you, 0 man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent ; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay ; he has poured out his “Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.

21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then, how ye ought to aim part of the substance that ye have one to another.

This idea that we are all beggars is egalitarian is the sense that it views all people as needing God for these existence and wealth. Whether you are wealthy or poor, our existence depends on God. Hugh Nibley argued that to claim that one deserves wealth, is essentially to deny that God made it all possible.

But I am not just a figurative beggar. I am an actual beggar.

I have been unemployed for over a year now. Except for about 24 hours of part-time work (total), I have been out of work since January 2013.

When Congress cut off extended umemployment benefits on December 28, I was one of the people cut off.

But this post is not about government benefits. I have always supported such programs. That is well known.

However, what I want to address  the spiritual and mental impact of being a beggar.

Being denied tenure and then almost immediately being dismissed from campus not only marked professional failure on my part, but it brought on a crushing sense of alienation, bitterness, and depression.

I had never realized how much standing in front of a classroom meant to me. I had never realized how much chatting with the English professors across the hall meant to me. Now it was gone.

At the same time that my professional life crumbled around me, my wife began her student teaching. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from BYU and had been working on a second degree in elementary education from a local university. We decided that we would move, and move to where ever Lyndee got a teaching position.

She got a position teaching first grade in Las Vegas. So we are now in fabulous Las Vegas and loving it.

However, we are barely making it. Luckily, the cost of living is not too bad here in Sin City. However, we are a family of five trying to make it half of our previous income. Keep in mind, I was a community college instructor. Half of that.

Things like free school lunch help stretch the budget and we have super supportive extended family members.

I have never felt more useless and worthless. White-male-privilege without an income is a wicked paradox.

I have started to forgive. While forgiveness does not pay the bills, it does lift some of the burden.

While I have always been an advocate for the beggar, my empathy has turned to sympathy. I have only had one call back about a full-time job. I have no more pride left. Pride is bad. Losing pride may not be a bad thing. But I have also lost much of my dignity. It is not gone…yet.

I am launching a new business venture in the near future. I hope it works out. Traditional work has eluded me. The prospect of a full-time position in higher education is gone. I am not even sure if I want one anymore.

My time out of work has allowed me to dream about what my dream position or job would be. With this new venture, I am going to make that happen (not try it, but do it).

I am tired. I am tired of being miserable. I am tired of hopelessness. I am tired of anger.

I am going to be happy. But there will be some begging along the way as I line up investors and partners.

I will always be a beggar.

Lord, can I go back to being a figurative beggar?

This has been horrible. My family is ready to flourish. No more just scraping by.

The best part of this period has been the constant reminders of who my true friends and allies are. They are my wife and three children. They have loved me on the hardest of days. They have mourned and suffered with me as I have wrestled with God.

What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

I am still alive and my family is with me.

Time for the next chapter.

 

29 Responses to I am a Beggar

  1. Tim on January 30, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I also had a recent period of unemployment. 2011 was a lousy year to graduate from law school, even with good grades at a decent school.

    So I also launched a new business venture. And my wife worked part-time for a while so we could survive. We weren’t eligible for unemployment, but we did receive some government aid for a few months, and we still receive some in the form of free and discounted health insurance.

    I’m confident my business will grow and we’ll have middle class incomes at some point–hopefully within the next couple of years. Right now we’re still struggling.

    I know what it’s like to struggle with the depression that comes with being an unemployed Mormon father. The inability to do the biggest thing your culture expects of you–to provide for your family. It’s an awful position to be in, and many men who experience it are too ashamed to talk about it.

    King Benjamin’s words should eliminate that shame. Regardless of our circumstances, we are all indeed beggars.

  2. Craig H. on January 30, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for such a moving post Chris. It seems like all the great religious ideals stay pretty abstract until we experience them ourselves.

  3. Ben S. on January 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    My deepest sympathies. You know my own story of spectacular failure, of course, (which I put the best spin on that I can), and the painful time that followed, so I’m speaking from the heart.

  4. Russell Arben Fox on January 30, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    “my empathy has turned to sympathy”

    There’s a whole sermon contained in that brief phrase. I’d like to believe that some of my past experiences with literal, not figurative, beggarhood taught me the truth of that sermon, but as with all us natural men, the teaching never ends (not should it). Anyway, thank you for sharing that sermon, and for opening up about the hard, humbling teaching you’re going through, Chris. My prayers and best wishes to you in your begging–and in everyone else’s too, I suppose. God bless.

  5. Howard on January 30, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Well despite our earlier differences it appears that we’ve both had some experience with this. A few years ago I took a vow of poverty for awhile and led by the spirit went on a walkabout to learn something about abundance vs need and I learned that craving for the next new thing is simply lust. I also learned that we are not our stuff and we are not our social standing. So accepting those givens once you can answer the question: Who are you? things begin to improve.

    Best of everything in your new adventure!

  6. Howard on January 30, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Btw I life coach people forced to downsize and Niagara makes some great very affordable 1.25 GMP shower heads and handhelds that are saving about $.60 per shower here in Southern CA. The stream is so nice it doesn’t feel like you’re giving up any luxury. But if your wife or daughters have long hair they will probably prefer the 1.5 GPM version. Also get some reflective insulation on the south facing windows.

  7. James Olsen on January 30, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I admit my first reaction was shock that you were willing to so candidly and publicly talk about this – which is itself commentary on how embedded in our culture I am. I’m also very grateful for your discussion here. We all face our mortality in many ways, often as we watch our brothers’ and sisters’ mortal struggles. God bless you in returning to figurative beggarhood. May we all find rest there.

  8. Chris Henrichsen on January 30, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    “I admit my first reaction was shock that you were willing to so candidly and publicly talk about this…”

    James: Yeah, I lack a sense of privacy, though this has taken me a while to write publicly about. I think this is the first time I have mentioned the tenure disaster on a blog (even my own). But I guess I also feel an obligation of sort to counteract the shame which comes with such things. It is just much more difficult when going though it as opposed to when looking back.

  9. Chris Henrichsen on January 30, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Tim,

    I agree that Benjamin’s sermon should eliminate that shame. I have no shame. :)

    Pride and anger are very different story for me.

  10. Chris Henrichsen on January 30, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Ben and Russell,

    You both may never know how your listening and willingness to chat has helped. Good friends have been a great help. Thanks.

  11. Cameron N. on January 31, 2014 at 12:08 am

    Chris, thanks for sharing. My Dad lost his government job when I was 13, didn’t find a solid one until I turned 15. I do not know how he did it, even I would berate him sometimes with complaints about saltless ketchup from the Bishop’s storehouse…

    My Dad has since commented that he feels one of the reasons he found the job he did was to help a woman colleague who desperately needed it. Truly, that test was the toughest of his life and on the level of ‘as Abraham.’

    If you need any design/brand consulting for your venture, let me know, I don’t have much free time but would love to offer whatever free help I can muster.

  12. E on January 31, 2014 at 12:39 am

    This really was very moving and I also thank you for it. There are so many who can relate to much of this. My husband also lost his job a few years ago and although we did not suffer so much financially, there have been other costs. Best wishes to you in your new business venture.

  13. Brian on January 31, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Thanks for the personal sharing, Chris. The first time a bishop sat my wife and I down to tell us he was concerned we weren’t making it financially, spurred profound restrospect on what it means to both be a beggar and to be perceived as one. (Also, I’m pretty sure the post should read “my sympathy has turned to empathy.’” Or are you doing something original here I don’t get?) Facing an uncertain future is certainly daunting and often dismissed by the successful (vocally last week in EQ) that it’s my fault for perusing a degree in line with my talents. It’s nice for me to know someone else is handling it better than I am–gives me hope. All the best.

  14. Xenophon on January 31, 2014 at 9:54 am

    May the next chapter be greater than the last, and may God bless you and your family.

  15. Christian J on January 31, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Chris, you’re reminding me to repent of my internal complaining about my 2.5 jobs that keep our family afloat. I remember being unemployed and it sucks. But, as you mention, it does give us perspective – if nothing else.

    I had recently graduated with my BFA in 2008. At 33, it had taken far too long. Now, with 2 kids, a mountain of student debt and a crashed economy, I reluctantly took a job with a small moving company. It crushed me. One day we were doing a job from the back entrance of a large apartment complex. On the corner was a ton of filled recycling bags with 3 women picking through them for bottles and cans that could be returned for money. The look on their faces will always be with me – utter delight and gratitude at their bounty of other people’s garbage. They were smiling and playful with each other on that cold October morning. I was humbled that day and I’m humbled by your words as well. thanks.

  16. Sarah Familia on January 31, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for sharing something so personal, Chris. Our family has gone through a similar crisis over the past several years, and it is so hard, on so many levels.

    I’ve been surprised at how much empathy I’ve been able to develop toward people for whom I formerly felt only sympathy. I remember one particular moment a few years ago when I walked in to Walmart to spend my food stamps on groceries for my family, and I felt a sudden feeling of solidarity wash over me. I FELT God’s love for all us poor struggling humans, and I felt powerfully linked to every person there. Truly, we are all beggars.

    I hope that things start working out better for you and your family soon. Best of luck with your new business venture!

  17. DavidH on January 31, 2014 at 11:31 am

    “a crushing sense of alienation, bitterness, and depression.” “I have never felt more useless and worthless.” “I have no more pride left. Pride is bad. Losing pride may not be a bad thing. But I have also lost much of my dignity. It is not gone…yet.”

    I am not as courageous as you in sharing the reasons why I have experienced very similar feelings in my life before. But I learned that it is true, though it sounds trite, that “God loves broken things.” At least I learned that God loved me, uselss and worthless, alienated, bitter, depressed and self-loathing, and if God could love me in my state, there are no limits on that love. As faint as it was, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes not visible, but it was there. And it still is, for everyone, no exceptions.

  18. Craig H. on January 31, 2014 at 11:47 am

    DavidH’s and Sarah’s comments, and many others, remind me of John Dominic Crossan’s terrific book, The Revolutionary Jesus, and his portrayal of the Kingdom of God as a kingdom of nuisances and nobodies. They weren’t just welcome in the kingdom, in other words, they were the heart of it. I try to remember that even when things are going “well.”

  19. Howard on January 31, 2014 at 11:56 am

    “God loves broken things.” At least I learned that God loved me, uselss and worthless…

    There is an eastern mystical concept called ego death. Death is actually a bit of an exaggeration, significant ego reduction is closer to the truth. Our egos are defensive psychological constructs used to interface with the rough and tumble world. Two of our largest subconscious fears are fear of appearing irrational and fear of loss of creditability. A significant step down in financial and social position can trigger an existential crisis, because we perceive we have lost creditability in the eyes of those around us. Late in this dark hour having survived the fall we (hopefully) learn that we are something much greater than our mortal status and that knowledge sustains us into the future with a new depth and a new understanding of what is important.

  20. David on January 31, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I wish you the very best in your new venture. I too have passed through tough times and am just now starting to come out of it now after 5+ years. The Lord showed me that period of time was my wilderness time, just as Lehi and his family and many others from the scriptures had to go through…a time to repent, increase in faith and experience more fully all the Lord actually does in my life. God bless you!

  21. Naismith on January 31, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I echo those who applaud your honesty in sharing this, and wish you well in building a new future. And I also appreciate King Benjamin’s message.

    But seriously, a “beggar”? Your wife has an income. Most women I know whose husbands are teachers refer to themselves as homemakers, fulltime parents, etc. rather than “beggars.” They view themselves as partners, contributing to the family in a different way. If you are really as egalitarian as you claim, then step up and declare yourself a homemaker.

    Earning a paycheck is only one way to provide for one’s family. It’s not how much you make but how much you keep. And a penny saved is two pennies earned because it is neither taxed nor tithed. I bet your kids are enjoying having you around more, and your wife is appreciating having you available to handle the homefront while she gets settled in her new profession. That is work, too.

    I don’t want to minimize your loss, but how much of that depression is due to buying into sexist ideas about self-worth?

    A lot of wives move to follow their husband’s career, and they have to deal with wherever they landed, making the best of it and finding a new career. The only thing different about your story is the gender of trailing spouse.

    I was not a beggar during the years that I worked hard as a mother at home. Even now, when I find myself with slow-downs in paid work when a grant start date is delayed or whatever, that time gets translated into home improvement projects, etc. Sweat equity.

    Of course every family has their own algorithm of the minimum income they need to stay afloat, but more income does not automatically translate to being better off. Not by a long shot, for many.

  22. Reluctant Pedant on February 1, 2014 at 1:53 am

    Thank you for writing this. It was heartfelt and meaningful.

    I also feel obligated to point out that you wrote “alluded” in the place of “eluded”. But that doesn’t diminish the meaning of the piece, which once again, I appreciated.

  23. Tim on February 1, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Newsflash for Naismith–a beginning teacher’s salary in much of the U.S. is not enough to raise a family on. For a family of five, it’s barely over the poverty level. If there’s student debt or other costs on top of that…

    So beggars? If a family needs to rely on government or church help for food, or health insurance, or other physical needs–sure.

    And stating that “how much of that depression is due to buying into sexist ideas about self-worth” is about as useful as stating the same thing to a mother who is unable to physically and emotionally take care of her children, even if her husband is able to care for them. Or to a wife who is unable to have children.

  24. Naismith on February 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Tim, my extended family includes teachers, including those who are raising children on one income. One family has multiple kids and their mom at home fulltime does an amazing job of making the most of what they have to work with, using her time not at a paid job to shop for the best mortgage and insurance, prowl thrift stores, alter clothes that are donated, process garden bounty, etc.

    My point is that merely not earning an income does not automatically make one a beggar. The mother in the paragraph above does not consider herself a beggar because she does not earn a paycheck per se.

    I am happy to pay taxes and fast offering in order to help others in a season of need. But those same folks who are recipients have not always been “beggars,” they had contributed in a season of plenty.

    Also, please note that I did not “state” about sexist ideas; rather, I asked a question. And that question is an important one moving into an egalitarian society. Much of THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE is about the depression of housewives. Now that more husbands are supporting their wives in a bread-winner role, they may have to face some of those issues.

  25. Chris Henrichsen on February 1, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Reluctant Pedant,

    Thanks! I always appreciate help in finding typos and errors.

  26. Chris Henrichsen on February 1, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Naismith,

    I am okay if you do not agree with how I use the term.

    My depression is mostly clinical and has been since I was pre-teen.

    I didn’t regret sharing this until your comment. Oh, well.

  27. MDearest on February 1, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Don’t regret, Chris! I read this post for the first time this afternoon. I found much inspiration in it, which is in short supply in my life of late. When I read the Mosiah passage, I put myself in the position of the beggar — not as a monetary beggar, but from my own position as a perennial outsider “that standeth in need” of belonging and fellowship. The rest of the passage, especially verses 19-21 showed me a different way to view this need that I can’t seem to fill. The comments further fleshed this out for my specific lack, especially the ones that spoke of the containment of the ego, and the admonition to find the answer to the question ‘Who are you?’

    It was great food for thought, exactly the nutrition I needed. Your painfully honest openness gave it much added resonance, without which, I don’t think I could have received my messages. Thank you so much.

    I wish you all success in your struggles. Don’t give up, be encouraged, keep trying to figure it out, adn I will too. God bless you, Brother H!

    (P.S. When you can hire an editor, the errors will mean something.)

  28. Cameron N on February 2, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    God bless Chris. I had a much shorter gap two years ago but that scriptural phrase came often to my mind, both as I pondered my own blessings (and total lack of merit), and also as I have considered the often optimistic attitudes of many in dead-end jobs or underemployed situations in local businesses I frequent.

  29. Mike C on February 5, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Wow, Chris, my heart goes out to you and your family. Thanks for sharing so candidly. King Benjamin’s sermon becomes more meaningful as I think about the literal. Best wishes for the success of your new business venture.