It’s easy to be grateful when everything is hunky-dorey. But what about when your marriage is falling apart? When you have lost your job or home? When your country is torn apart by civil war? When you don’t know what it means to feel safe anymore?
What about when you have more than you could ever want or need? How do you realize genuine gratitude when you haven’t had to experience desperate need?
When it comes to gratitude, I have learned that compassion is a key ingredient. In order to know compassion the need has to be made real, one has to look into the eyes of who is being served. Writing a check is wonderful but it is also easy. It’s not as easy to look into the face of a hungry stranger, a homeless mother and her toddler, a lonely 90 year old. It is especially important to understand that there will always be a need. A meal may be served today but that same little tummy will be hungry again tomorrow. Families will continue to chose the danger of flight over the greater danger of staying in a terrorized country. What we have to do is ask ourselves if we are willing to look into those faces? How we will respond to those in need, across town or across the globe? What are we teaching our children about compassion and gratitude?
Leading up to Thanksgiving we were divided on what to do about the refuge crisis in Syria. There is no easy answer and who knows if we have the attention span to continue the debate past black Friday. Will compassion or fear win this debate? Can the two coexist? I can only answer how I will respond and the lessons I will teach my children.
Last week we shopped for and packed shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child program. The trip to Target started a little shaky. They had a hard time pulling themselves away from the toys on their Christmas list and focusing on the children we were shopping for. Eventually they figured it out and got excited to pick out toys for someone else and pack them up. The seed of compassion and gratitude was planted.
That same week I showed them photos of Syrian refuge children. Children their age who had normal lives just like theirs but were now running for their lives with no place to lay their head. They needed to know that compassion doesn’t end with sending off a shoebox. They needed to look into the faces and hear the names and stories of families who, through no fault of their own, were beyond desperate.
Shehd, 7, loves to draw, but more recently all of her drawings have had the same theme: weapons. “She saw them all the time, they are everywhere,” explains her mother when the little girl sleeps on the ground alongside Hungary’s closed border. Now she does not draw at all. The family brought neither paper nor crayons with them on their flight. Shehd does not play anymore either. The escape has forced children to become adults and share concern for what happens in an hour or a day. The family has had difficulty finding food during their wandering. Some days they have had to make do with apples they were able to pick from trees along the road. If the family had known how hard the journey would be they would have chosen to risk their lives in Syria. (Source: Where syrian children sleep)
I told my boys that these children were no different than them, except they had to leave their homes without warning and now had no place to call safe. I told them that they needed our help but all we could do right now was to pray for them. Pray that God would give them hope, a place to rest their head and a place where they felt safe. Out of all the photos we looked at Harry picked this one. We read all of the names and all of the circumstances and for some reason he picked Shehd. Harry prays that she will find a place to live and will have paper and crayons so she can draw. Addison prays for her to find a new home or be able to go back to her old one and for all of the terrorists in the world to die. Today Addison asked me why we pray for this one girl along with all the refuges. I told him the truth. That without her name and little face these people are just a number, a faceless problem across the world and not truly our concern. But Shehd is a real girl with real nightmares and forces us to have compassion. She forces us to examine what we have and how fortunate we are. Praying for her allows us to begin to understand gratitude.
I’m broken that I will never know what will happen to Shehd. I’m torn for the mom in the homeless shelter food line holding her sleeping toddler. Even though all the brokenness and hurt in the world we are learning compassion and gratitude because we are discovering that the two go hand in hand.