When I read this word it tugs at my heart and saddens me. It makes me think of someone in another nation being without food or clothing, someone going without. However, when the word is associated with someone I know and hold dear to my heart I’m intrigued as to what indigent really means and how one is labeled as such.
Dictionary.com defines indigent as a needy person, one who is lacking food, clothing, and other necessities of life because of poverty. So this definition certainly confirms the tug and sadness in my heart upon hearing it. I’ve given to those who are indigent, I’ve seen commercials of indigents, I’ve prayed for indigents, I’ve shook hands and hugged the indigent, and I, myself have been indigent at different points in my life.
Let me reel back the life wheel and explain why the word indigent is even a matter of my thoughts today and now my words. We’ve all seen and heard the word several times, usually we hear it in a TV commercial that breaks your heart to give to the indigent kids in a 3rd world country. Well, unfortunately I had an instance where it wasn’t directed to a people group of a 3rd world country, but rather to a dear friend of mine.
You see, I’ve been a pen pal to a prisoner for 9 years now and last week, I received a letter from him with the word indigent stamped on the envelope. This was no hand-written little scribble of a word; it was a capitalized, bold, red stamped word. They wanted everyone to know that this person was INDIGENT. At first, I was outraged, thinking to myself “How dare they! He already gets treated poorly and is without so much.” Then it hit me, that’s why they stamped him as indigent; he is without. After looking into it further I learned that an indigent inmate is given 2 pieces of paper and envelopes a week and if indigent is stamped on the envelope the mail room will affix a stamp and send it out. In order to be declared indigent you have to have no money ‘on your books’ for 30 days. Not that I feel any better about my friend being declared indigent, but it made me think about labels and how we affix them to other people, without blinking an eye. I can just see the prison staff sitting at their desk with the big handled, red-lettered stamp. She grabs a handful of envelopes and forcefully, quickly and efficiently stamps the envelopes, probably without even blinking an eye.
How often do I do that? I label the kid who’s texting while driving as an idiot, I label my friend a gossiper, I label a church member as a goody-goody, a preppy-dressed mother with kids in tow as got it all together, a geeky, zit-faced teenager as difficult, or even labeling the quiet guy next door as impossible! Truthfully, it just seems as if labeling comes so easy to us, whether the label could be true or not. The impact of a label can carry so much weight; whether it’s a label you place on yourself, one somebody verbally calls you or even stamps it on your letter and sends it on its way ½ way across the country; which is really what we should do with any negative labels we’ve affixed upon ourselves.
DISCOVERING: the impact of labels
BECOMING: a label breaker