I have had many friends over the years tell me I should try fishing. They have even offered to teach me. Even after I protest that I’m not interested in fishing, they insist. They are convinced they can teach me to fish. Consequently, I have gone fishing in a number of places – a stocked lake in California, numerous mountain streams in Colorado, a few lakes in Texas, and lakes in Arkansas and Kentucky. I have sat in boats, in lawn chairs, on large rocks, and in my wheel chair. I have not caught many fish. The most exciting thing to happen on any fishing trip was being arrested on the way home (a good story for another day).
I haven’t been fishing in a long time and don’t plan to ever go again. I think people thought they could prop me up next to a body of water and eventually I would haul in a bass or trout. But, I never learned to fish.
There are people who love to fish just like I love baseball. I have a friend who frequently says, “Jesus never called any golfers,” reminding us that several fishermen were called to follow Jesus. These fishermen are usually confident they can teach me to fish. They have no doubt that if I would just spend an afternoon on their boat or on the side of a lake with them, I would become a fisherman.
Sorry, it’s just not going to happen. I am not a fisherman. I don’t like to eat fish, I don’t enjoy trying to catch fish. I don’t like to handle fish. There is nothing about the activity that appeals to me. I would much rather read a book than watch a bobber bounce up and down in the water.
There is a proverbial saying that has been around for a long time that deals with the subject of fishing. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” No doubt, this is a true saying. If a man can learn to fish for himself he will have no need for anyone to give him a fish to eat.
Many people think that the solution to poverty in our country is wrapped up in this simple proverb. If we teach people how to change their lives (learn to fish) then they will be able to take care of themselves. A good number of people are poor because they are lazy or have found a way to get by without doing anything.
I hear people say, “Why should I get a job when I can get welfare and food stamps for doing nothing?” If those people would simply learn how to fish then we would all be better off.
However, there are also people who will never learn how to fish. They are like me, no matter how many times they are taken to the lake by good fishermen, they will never be able to reel in a meal. There are many people who will never be self-sufficient.
I’m not just talking about those who are disabled or mentally challenged. There are people who just seem destined to make bad decisions, unable to learn from the best mentors. After spending a lifetime in ministry, I know some of these folks. They are the ones who show up at church looking for help. By all appearances they should be able to carry their own weight. So, as a minister, you try to help them find a job, make good decisions, take responsibility. And you keep doing this until you wear out and nothing changes.
I have not figured out what it is about these people. Perhaps it is the way they were raised or something they were not taught. It might be a missing chromosome or an unknown birth defect. It might be a combination of both heredity and environment. Who knows?
These are people who are unable to fish and for some reason cannot be taught how to fish. They live with others who have the same problem. They become very good at asking for a fish, but have little or no interest in fishing lessons. I could give you the names of many of these people whom I have encountered over the years and some I have met just recently.
The tendency is to put a list of things to do in front of these folks and tell them if they will do these things then they will be a fisherman. Most of them will even try, for awhile, but it doesn’t last. It’s not that they want to fail, they would really like to succeed, but they just can’t do it.
Some of you have children or grandchildren like this. They have been given every chance to fish – picked up, forgiven, and retrained every time they faltered. But they still fail. Many of them get tripped up by drugs or alcohol. I have met many who succumb to the lure of materialism – spending themselves into a quagmire of debt and foolishness.
There are many who think the only thing we need to do for the poor is provide fishing lessons. Provide a good education and give them job training and they will work themselves out of poverty. We could even offer budget counseling and courses on shopping and saving. If we could get the poor enrolled in this kind of training we would eliminate poverty.
It won’t work. Sure, it will help some, perhaps a great many. But there will always be those like me who just do not have the capability of learning how to fish. Some of these folks live in shelters or on the street. However, many of them have just enough fishing skills to survive on the bottom fringes of our economy. They can eat with the help of food banks and pay rent as long as there is subsidized housing and stay healthy if the government provides medical care.
I will be the first to admit that I have no idea how to solve this problem. Honestly, I don’t think it can be solved. I think these folks will always be among us so it is imperative that we learn how to give them some of our fish. The problem for the poor is not there is a lack of fish. The problem is that the expert fishermen are keeping too much of it for themselves.