The students were completing on a series of their own yearbook pages, a school scrapbook of sorts. There were pages detailing their likes and dislikes, goals and fears, handwriting samples and illustrations. And sprinkled throughout the pages were thought provoking questions like this one:
What would you do with a million dollars?
I know what I would have written when I was in fourth grade:
“I’d buy a lifetime supply of K-Swiss shoes, 3,000 Cabbage Patch Kids, a Swatch
Watch with 465 hues of interchangeable wrist bands and an underground swimming
pool.” Then all would be well.
But what would would be the heart’s desire of a fourth grader these days?
Peeking over the shoulder of one boy I read, “I would buy all the video games in the world.”
I smiled and nodded knowingly. Oh the bliss of being able to choose from $1,000,000 worth of video games! Mario and Luigi would practically be family!
Weaving my way between desks I stopped beside a girl who had attended another school where I had subbed earlier in the year. I remembered her mostly because her little sister was adorably chatty, while she seemed quiet and sober.
Little Sister freely rattled off details of their situation.
They were living in the domestic violence shelter, and their mom was looking for a place with a fence so they could play outside. I hated to imagine what had brought them to that place, but since she was attending school in a different part of town, I hoped they’d found that place with a fence.
Curiously, I peered over her shoulder to see what she would do with $1,000,000. In her best cursive she had written, “I would buy food for all the hungry people.”
I would buy food.
No wish for lunch with Taylor Swift.
No blathering about Justin Bieber paraphernalia.
Not even a wish for a plastic Swiss time piece.
What would make a fourth grader want to buy food for all the hungry people? I could only assume she’d been one of them.
My heart broke and then was strangely instructed:
Generosity and gratitude grow more quickly in the soil of need
than in the suffocating overgrowth of abundance.
It’s a sweet blessing when all we “need” is a few more video games or a plastic watch.
Most of us lack nothing necessary. Sometimes, I can’t even conceive of a gift to buy my own children. When that is the case, as it is for many of us, gratitude and generosity must be modeled and cultivated repeatedly.
But I suspect that in the barren place of need, generosity and gratitude grow unhindered by the entanglements of abundance.
To me it was a demonstration that often the places we are most needy–whether it be the physical pain of hunger or the emotional pain of loneliness–are also the places we are most sensitive to others. It’s because we’ve “been there.” And strangely enough, those broken, sensitive places are often where generosity grows so willingly.
The one who was hungry becomes the giver. The one who was lonely becomes the friend.
And once again we see that God does not squander our pain or disappointments. If we are willing, he will use them.
Need presupposes gratitude.
Gratitude produces generosity.
Generosity meets the needs of another, and the cycle repeats.
Over time, we might be surprised to find ourselves genuinely thankful even for our need, because it is the fertile soil where gratitude takes root and generosity blossoms.