The Poverty of Being Unwanted


About 8 months ago our beautiful daughter, Katherine, was born. That’s when we also found out about her Down Syndrome. And in the midst of wrestling with what that meant – for her life and for our family – I realized a very important lesson.

A week or two later I was walking into the NICU, where Katherine had to stay a few weeks before coming home. There was a very angry man outside, violently yelling and swearing at a woman. She was violently yelling and swearing back. There were two, nervous, insecure and partially unaware toddlers at their feet – presumably their children.

As I was approaching to pass them, one of the kids stumbled and fell onto the sidewalk. She burst into tears, seemingly unnoticed by her parents as the yelling continued. There was one other woman with them whose minimal attention to the crying toddler was just enough to keep me from stopping to help.

Maybe I should have stopped anyway. Maybe it’s none of my business. Or maybe such drama is so tragically common all around us that we’ve grown numb to it. I hope they were just having a bad day. Unfortunately, such bad days are the everyday poverty of so many, many children in today’s world.

Then I entered the waiting room of the NICU. As I was waiting, a boy, in the shape of a very large man, was leaving. I presumed he was a new father from what I could tell. He was probably 20 years old. And he was wearing a shirt that read, “SHUT UP, BITCH!” in neon letters literally the size of your head.

The guy could have had a million dollars in the bank, but he had poverty written all over. I ached for him.

After that, I thought of our Katherine. She has what they call a “disability,” or “special needs.” And she’ll face a lot of very difficult challenges in life that most will not. I ache for her, too, but differently. Cuz when I really think about it, her special needs are actually fairly small and unimportant when compared to the real poverty-of-being-unloved that so many others experience everyday.

The need to be loved is not often counted among “special needs” because we all desperately need it. But, in truth, it is the most needed. And it’s the most special.

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” – Blessed Mother Teresa

19 comments Add comment

Brandon Vogt June 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

I was talking to one of my friends, a fellow young father, and I asked him “what one thing do you want your kids to know above all else?”

I expected him to suggest something like “that God exists” or “how wonderful they are”.

But he said, “That they know how much they are loved. If they know that, then I’ve been a successful father.”

I’ve taken that to heart with my own kids and that’s my one aim: I will be a good father if, throughout their childhood, my children understand how much they are loved by me, my wife, my family, and–most importantly–by God.

Matthew Warner July 5, 2011 at 12:07 am

Amen – Brandon! I think the real challenge is in realizing that our actions (what we teach/show them, how we act, what we do) are the measure of how much we love them – not that we simply say or claim or feel that we love them. At least, that’s how our kids will measure it. And if we do that well enough, then they’ll know they are wonderful and “that God exists” and all of that other stuff. They’ll know we love them not by our continual verbal reassurance, but by our actually loving them in our actions. And that’s where the sobering reality of “how am I acting” and “what kind of life am I living” and “what example am I setting” really sets in.

Shelly @ Of Sound Mind and Spirit June 30, 2011 at 11:59 am

I don’t think I need to blame my pregnancy hormones for crying while reading this one. Very powerful. Very beautiful. God has blessed your family and I pray for those other families you encounted and wrote about today.

Beth June 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm

So glad Katherine was born into such a loving family and thank you for writing this. It is a subject that needs to be considered much more often!

Matt F June 30, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I read your post with interest and appreciate all your sentiments. I hope the children you witnessed are blessed with loving grandparents, neighbors or siblings. Sometimes children born into such circumstances are exceptional in their ability to overcome this obstacle. God can always work miracles, ones which we witness every day and I’ll pray for unwanted children and for you and your family.

Joshua from Ohio June 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm


There is a boy with down syndrome who attends Mass every week (possibly daily Mass attendee as well). This boy is more attentive and more joyful than most adults. His joy is contagious. I can’t help but feel joy when he is at the same liturgy celebration. God’s light definitely shines in him and he has a simple faith that I had seemed to have lost along the way. It is sad that there are children who have to grow up in unloving homes, but thank God for the parents who do love their children, who do take their kids to Church, share the love of Christ with them, teach them to pray, and live by example. Your daughter will touch the lives of so many people, this I know to be true.

Matthew Warner July 5, 2011 at 12:09 am

Josh – there is no doubt that we have a lot more to learn from people with Down Syndrome than they from us! Thank you for sharing!

Kathryn July 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Thank you so much Matthew for such a beautiful post!

Tracy July 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I applaud the fact that you love your daughter. I encourage you to extend that love to strangers. Your post seems very self-righteous and judgemental. You do know know those strangers, and yet you judged one set by their behavior in a brief moment during what may have been the very most stressful time of their life, and then another stranger, a young man who has done nearly the hardest first step a young father will ever have to take — showing up to a NICU — you judged him by his shirt. If you have grown up in a middle-class white protestant world and never been exposed to different people and different cultures, then perhaps you could travel and also volunteer to help the less fortunate in your own community.

Matthew Warner July 5, 2011 at 12:24 am

Tracy – I’m sorry if it came off that way. I in no way meant to take away from the difficulties and challenges those people in the story were/are going through. In fact, the recognition of those hardships (the source often being a lack of love in their own lives) is the point of this post. I wasn’t judging them really…just posing some statistical probabilities of some very common love-starved environments that children are growing up in these days. And then resolving to make sure my children are loved the way they should be, to the best of my ability.

I don’t think that recognizing that many children grow up in this kind of “poverty of being unloved” and that citing the concrete examples of such poverty that brought it to my attention is self-righteous or judgmental. So, again, I’m sorry if you took it that way. I appreciate the suggestions and encouragement.

Micaela Swift July 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Tracy, unfortunately, aside from religion and the judging comment you made, you have to understand that a person who dresses a certain way, or like this guy, wears a T-shirt with such a comment on his shirt is worth pointing out as a poverty that is very worth pointing out. In this culture, we see such poverties all around us, and to assume that one is “casting judgement” on a person based on his t-shirt is to overlook at the reality of the situation. A person who can present himself in such a way (such as wearing a vulgar shirt for everyone to read, including young children) says so much about the lack of love and respect for the sacredness of fatherhood. This is the greatest poverty today, and it is plaguing our culture so violently. Such attitudes must be recognized as the greater poverties (handicaps) of this world rather than beautiful children who have a certain birth defect etc. Where true love triumphs there truly is no defect. Thanks for sharing this story Matthew!

Jessica July 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

Matt, This post is so near and dear to my heart, as the title (bearing influence from Mother Teresa’s loving quote) is at the center of my being. Mother Teresa meant that the poverty of being unloved is the greatest poverty in the world, far greater than monetary poverty – and I couldn’t agree more. I’m launching a child welfare consulting company aimed at connecting the chronically unloved and unwanted, youth waiting for adoption and foster care, with those who love and want – parents. I consult with child welfare agencies to market to, recruit and retain foster, foster-to-adopt, and adoptive families for our nation’s youth based on a successful model I developed and implemented in Colorado. In dwelling on the concept of being unwanted, I see loneliness and unwanted-ness as a poverty that invades all walks of life, and as a result, can manifest itself in many dangerous ways. Addiction, violence, self-harm, abuse, neglect, etc. etc. This feeling keeps people from serving others, from caring for their family, from living their life, from functioning – and all for feeling unloved and unwanted. What a testimony to our need and desire for Jesus? I think that Mother Teresa’s quote can affect us in one of two ways – either we feel unloved and unwanted, or we venture out into the world to love and to want others. Although youth waiting for adoption are, in my mind, some of the most helpless in need of being wanted out of love, in truth, we are surrounded by the unloved. At some point, a faithful person stops looking inward, and looks outward, knowing that they are not alone and bearing God’s strength to love and want others. You’re right; youth with special needs are some of the most unwanted people I serve, as are teens and sibling groups. It is my goal to find those who can love and want these youth and convince them to consider to adopt and foster. Having experienced it, would you ever consider adopting a youth with down syndrome?

Matthew Warner July 8, 2011 at 8:24 am

That’s wonderful, Jessica! Of course we’d consider it in the future. Thank you for your important and needed work!

Sage July 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I just do not understand. On one hand, you say the worst thing for anyone is to be unloved and unwanted. On the other hand you believe every female who gets pregnant should have the child although she does not want it or is not able to care for it. This is why I am pro choice; because I believe you are right and it’s horrible to be unwanted and unloved.

Matthew Warner July 18, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Yes, it’s horrible to be unwanted and unloved. We agree there. Where we differ is that you think that the solution to an unwanted, unloved person is to choose to kill them. I don’t think that’s an acceptable solution…in fact, it’s worse. I think most people would agree they would rather start their life unwanted than to be killed. But either way, it’s not anybody *else’s* choice anyway. We have no right to intentionally take an innocent person’s life.

The solution to unwanted, unloved people is to LOVE them! Not to kill them.

Micaela Swift July 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

That is exactly why people are unwanted and unloved….because there are people who are “pro choice”. They are “acting” and “proclaiming” their actions on the very platform of “unloving and unwanting” the most fragile among us. To think it is a choice to slaughter her very own child in the safest place it is meant to be? This defines the very act of unloving and unwanting another. The solution is to be “PRO LIFE” in every moment in life, treating each life as a gift with the dignity of their nature.
And last of all, one must be pro-life, “especially” when it is most difficult and inconvenient……not just when things are going “smooth”, “carefree” “financially stable”, “materialistically rich” etc. The wimpy, sad, and tragic people are the ones who never stand up for loving and caring that person who “is” most fragile…and in this case the very innocent child kicking around in the womb….. how horrific it is for a woman, man or “mother” to call herself “pro-choice”

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