“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Philippians 4:11
He is six years old and filled with youthful exuberance. He gets excited about swings, lizards, water slides, ice cream, and trips to the library. He is usually not very passionate about shoes, because, well – shoes are not that interesting to a six-year-old boy.
I was admittedly rather surprised when he begged to come to the store and pick out some shoes for the new school year, immediately found the ones that he wanted, and could hardly wait to put them on when we arrived back at home. He carefully tied the laces all by himself, tried on his new school clothes to see how they looked with the shoes, and wiped the white soles with a wet cloth when he started to notice dirt collecting there.
A few days later, he wore those shoes when we took our kids to volunteer at a local non-profit organization called Feed My Starving Children. They rely on donations and volunteers to pack and ship food to malnourished children around the world. While we were there, they showed us a video about children who were literally starving to death before receiving this life-saving food. That was very eye-opening for my kids. Ever since then, they have been praying for hungry people in our daily family prayers, which makes me want to jump for joy because of their newfound awareness.
We left there that night with a couple of these shirts, and I am kind of in love with them.
As I witnessed my son’s excitement over a new pair of shoes before volunteering to help provide food for the heavily disadvantaged children of the world, a range of emotions filled my heart – the first of which was gratitude.
Aside from the lean years of graduate school, we have never had to worry about providing the necessities of life for our family. If one of us needs shoes, we buy them without giving it a second thought. While we do not always buy popular brands or indulge in the latest trends, we are never lacking for clothing. We have a nice home in a safe neighborhood, even if it is often in need of repair. We don’t have to worry about how we will pay for electricity or water. We drive old cars that have 100,000 + miles, but they run. We have a fridge full of healthy food and pantry shelves that are usually well stocked. We are still working to pay off the student loans that put us through 10 years of school, and we certainly cannot afford to buy everything that we want, but we are not lacking.
So many others are not so lucky.
There are countless mothers who stay up at night worrying about how they will feed their children the next day. I imagine that it breaks their hearts into a thousand pieces when they have little choice but to send them off to school hungry.
There are those who have no transportation but their own two feet.
There are many who long to provide their children a home in a safe neighborhood with good schools, but that is simply out of the question.
There are children who dare not even dream of owning a brand new pair of shoes.
I was not prepared for the sadness that crept into my heart and settled right next to the gratitude. While I was happy that I could provide my child with something as simple as a new pair of shoes, my heart hurt for those children who were born into circumstances that were far less than ideal, and for their parents who would probably give anything to provide them with the same simple necessities that I so often take for granted.
There is nothing like a little dose of perspective to shift your focus and remind you of what is important.
I cannot even begin to say that I know what it is like to be poor. While I have lived through times of financial stress and meager income, they do not even compare to the struggles that some are forced to endure simply because of the circumstances of their birth. I do not know why there is such widespread inequality, or why I have been blessed with opportunities for education (thanks to a whole lot of student loans) that have provided a comfortable living while so many others struggle for mere survival.
But this much I do know…I must not take it for granted for a single day.
Instead of wishing I could afford more toys, nicer cars, a beautifully decorated home with one more bathroom, or the backyard of my dreams, I need to focus my energy on learning to be content with what I already have, because I have enough.
I echo the words of Jeffrey R. Holland who said:
I know that although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and ‘because I have been given much, I too must give.’
I want to do something, even if it is only a drop in the in the ocean, and that starts with gratitude and ends with action. I can begin by teaching my children to be grateful by providing them with what they need and very little of what they want, even if I can afford to give them more. I can teach them to serve others and think outside of themselves. I can show them by example that more stuff does not bring more happiness, and that intentionally choosing to live with less is more fulfilling that trying to keep up with everybody else.
I can help to provide food for a few starving children, or donate a few pairs of new shoes, in hopes of allowing a grateful mother to see her child’s eyes light up when he puts them on his feet for the first time. That may not even make a dent in the overall need, but it will matter a great deal to those individuals.
We can all make a difference if we have a desire and a commitment to do something, even if that something is small. Over time, small drops of goodness can flood the earth, bringing hope to those who need it most.
Are you up for it? What can you do today?
You can start by trying out the calculator on this site. You will be able to see that you are among the wealthiest 2% of the world’s population if you bring home an annual income of $40,000 (for a single person). Making $25,000 annually places you among the top 5%. Now that is some serious perspective.