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Portraits of Christ: Tom and the Paradox of Poverty

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Editor’s Note: DC Service Corps member Lizzy Balboa concludes her series on the “Portraits of Christ.” In this final post, she tells the story of a man who had to lose it all to find his way back to Christ.

I’ve received the warm smile of Christ in His modern embodiment of Tom.

Tom was a prominent attorney and Wall Street financer. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from Georgetown University, where he was a walk-on athlete and excelled on natural talent. Christ was central to his being, and he prioritized service and social justice.

By all accounts, Tom’s life was wonderful.

Before leaving Georgetown, he married his college girlfriend and had two beautiful children. He was happy, but the societal pressure to be prestigious and the personal pressure to provide for his family vied with his inclination to serve. He reluctantly chose the best-paying job that came his way—one that eventually led to an eight-figure salary and great esteem.

Then in possession of an inordinate income, he invested in top-market cars, world-class vacations, and high-end schools for his children. And when overwhelmed by the pressure to appear contented, compete with his colleagues and meet the demands of his stressful job, he invested in liquor. And then women. And then bank-draining gifts to appease associates.

So while his lifestyle seemed enviable from the outside, turmoil raged inside.

Tom was unfulfilled. He was lacking, and he grasped at the temporary Spackle of the world to restore wholeness.

As he lost control, Tom forfeited his spirituality, began to see himself as God, and fell deeply into the trap of pride. In the course of one year, he hit his nadir on a Miami park bench—divorced, homeless and unemployed.

He soon checked himself in to AA, took a part-time job at a homeless shelter and made amends with God. And he’s had a permanent smile since.

In the last year since he began recovery, he’s had the opportunity to return to his old job and old society. He’s declined this opportunity—and says he’ll keep declining.

Tom let go of the community he desired to fit in and, in doing so, has since found deep friendship, restored love, and unlimited company. Tom surrendered his extravagant income and all the riches it afforded and has since found treasure in spiritual freedom and simplicity.

Tom forsook the poverty of wealth and found wealth in his poverty, just as Christ promised.

Tom’s story was almost mine—and it still could be. Perhaps you can see yourself in him, too.

Perhaps you, like I do, flirt with the same temptations to seize prestige and power. Perhaps you are prone to the same distortions of virtue in allowing natural generosity or gentleness become the source of your destruction. Perhaps your peace has been extinguished by the demands of the world, or you’ve found yourself, in terror, far from the narrow path toward joy.

If so, you may understand the great gratitude I feel for having come to know Tom. What a beautiful gift is this modern prophet and living saint. He has affirmed and enlivened what I had come to perceive as platitudinous wisdom of the Gospel—that through humble surrender to God, through seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all else will be given us besides.

It is by this blessing of Tom that I’ve found fresh understanding of my charge as a Christian and courage to live it out.

Reflection Questions: Do you think the reality of your life is in line with the way other people perceive it? How does the exterior match up with the interior?

As a member of Franciscan Mission Service's DC Service Corps, Elizabeth spent her year of service at Little Friends for Peace, a nonprofit organization which promotes interpersonal and inner peace to resolve conflicts in a nonviolent manner. Elizabeth has a passion for leadership and service and was one of the inaugural members of DC Service Corps. This opportunity allowed her to pair both of these passions for the good of others. Prior to her arrival at Franciscan Mission Service, she spent time with an AmeriCorps program in Michigan. Elizabeth graduated from Grand Valley State University with a double major in journalism and biomedical sciences and a minor in religious studies.