Some years ago, my wife’s great uncle and his wife were visiting from Germany and my family travelled to my in-law’s home to see them. Our kids were quite young at the time, and prone to wake up very early. Luckily, so was my mother-in-law, who often spent the wee hours with her grandchildren. Despite her extra house guests, the kids soaked in Oma’s undivided attention that morning while my wife and I took the rare opportunity to sleep in.
I woke up about an hour after the kids and as I headed upstairs, I heard my wife’s great Uncle offering a prayer. Hmm, I thought, breakfast is being served. I’ll just wait at the top of the steps where they can’t see me until they’re finished so I don’t interrupt them. I soon realized this was no ordinary, memorized table grace spoken out of obligation. This was a prayer from the heart. It was deep with gratitude – gratitude for the gift of family, food, and a chance to live in peace. The prayer was in German, so I missed some of the dialogue (my German is lousy) but the tone was unmistakable. As I listened, I heard my great uncle’s voice falter as he offered heartfelt thanks to his Creator through tears. I was stunned. Until that day I had never heard someone cry during a prayer offered before a meal and I have never heard it since. When he finished praying, a simple meal of porridge, juice and toast was served.
Until that day I had never heard someone cry during a prayer offered before a meal and I have never heard it since.
All four adults at the table that morning had lived through the evils of the second world war. My wife’s parents had fled Europe, landing as refugees in South America before eventually coming to Canada. Her great uncle had fallen into the hands of Soviet soldiers during the war and spent two years narrowly surviving the extreme starvation and brutality of life in the Gulag. They had all known the reality of true hunger.
The breakfast served that morning was hardly a brunch buffet at a great restaurant. It was a simple meal, but it was enough for four people who remembered what it was like to have nothing. They had faced the possibility of never seeing family again, and here they were, sharing a meal, safe in the knowledge that there was more food in the cupboard. And my children got to learn from that shared experience. Although too young to understand the hardship that shaped their relatives’ gratitude for the simple things, it made a lasting impression on them. It made a lasting impression on me too.
Gratitude breeds generosity, and that deep appreciation for what we have frees us to give with open hearts and hands.
Gratitude breeds generosity, and that deep appreciation for what we have frees us to give with open hearts and hands. It’s not uncommon to read about billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates or Warren Buffet donating vast sums of money. These gifts are so large they can literally change the world. Most of us can’t dream of gifts that large let alone make them, but one of the lessons we learned from sharing that time with my relatives is that even if the gifts we give are of modest size they can mean everything to the person who receives it.
The simple gifts we offer – a kind word to a hurting person, a drink on a hot day to someone who is thirsty, or sharing a simple meal might not change the world, but it could change the world of someone else who has known emotional pain, thirst, or hunger.
Live generously. You might not change the world, but you never know when you might change someone’s world.
Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen, CEO