The stake high councilor slowly rose from his knees after what had been a lengthy prayer.
“When we replace this carpet maybe we can get a thicker pad,” he said. “My knees don’t like these thin pads.”
A timid voice came from a corner of the room.
“Somewhere in Martin’s Cove,” the voice said, “a handcart pioneer is playing the world’s smallest violin.”
The comment triggered a burst of chuckles.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we struggle to keep our perspective. It’s never easy. Perspective can be a moving target. If you show concern about the temperature in the chapel or the black marks on the kitchen floor, you open yourself up for someone to say, “How can you complain about that when there are (pick one) — (a) children dying in Uganda; (b) nuclear missiles in North Korea; (c) people without water in Puerto Rico.”
Our human discomforts can seem pretty petty at times, even when the temperature in the chapel is only 50 degrees.
No one likes to be singled out as a poster child for ingratitude. Yet, it happens to all of us — except when we're singling out others for being small.
That's why when accusations of ingratitude start to fly, I like to retreat to a special memory. I go to it for perspective.
It was 1968 and I was an LDS missionary on the high plains of the Andes. It was also Christmas.
Daily wages for the people in that area were about $2 a day, give or take a dollar or two. You could say the whole region was poverty-stricken, though no one did. Calling the people there “poor” would be redundant, like calling a fish “wet.”
It was fast Sunday and a young man rose from his chair and went to the front of the room — a rented room in a dimly lit, run-down flat.
“I was reading in a church magazine about a prisoner of war during World War II,” he said. “For Christmas, the prisoner got his usual daily slice of bread but with a small piece of fat on it. He was so grateful he burst into tears.”
And then the young man burst into tears.
Without irony he said, “We are so blessed, brothers and sisters. So blessed. Today for Christmas dinner my family will be having chicken.” He paused to gather himself. “In my heart of hearts, I feel like a king.”
When I replay that memory in my mind my heart opens wide. And suddenly finger-pointing seems pretty silly. And I find myself hoping that people everywhere will one day get everything they long for — from the shivering folks in the chapel to my buddy with creaky knees who hopes for a thicker carpet pad to kneel on.