Oatmeal for Christmas: On Giving, Receiving, and Physical and Spiritual Sustenance
By Ken K. Gourdin
I’ve been pondering giving, and receiving, and doing the latter gratefully, and physical and spiritual sustenance this holiday season. This link is to this month’s First Presidency message in the Ensign, the monthly magazine for adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last accessed December 17, 2014:https://www.lds.org/ensign/2014/12/fill-the-world-with-christs-love?lang=eng. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Church’s First Presidency tells the story of one young boy’s Christmas wish:
It doesn’t take expensive gifts to make Christmas meaningful. I am reminded of a story told by Elder Glen L. Rudd, who served as a member of the Seventy from 1987 to 1992. One day before Christmas a number of years ago, while he was managing a bishops’ storehouse, he learned from an ecclesiastical leader about a needy family that had recently moved to the city. When he went to visit their small apartment, he discovered a young single mother with four children under age 10.
The family’s needs were so great that the mother could not buy treats or presents for her children that Christmas—she couldn’t even afford a tree. Brother Rudd talked with the family and learned that the three little girls would love a doll or a stuffed animal. When he asked the six-year-old son what he wanted, the hungry little boy replied, “I would like a bowl of oatmeal.”
Brother Rudd promised the little boy oatmeal and maybe something else. Then he went to the bishops’ storehouse and gathered food and other supplies to meet the immediate needs of the family.
That very morning a generous Latter-day Saint had given him 50 dollars “for someone in need.” Using that donation, Brother Rudd bundled up three of his own children and went Christmas shopping—his children selecting toys for the needy children.
After loading up the car with food, clothing, gifts, a Christmas tree, and some ornaments, the Rudds drove to the family’s apartment. There they helped the mother and her children set up the tree. Then they placed presents under it and presented the little boy with a large package of oatmeal.
The mother wept, the children rejoiced, and they all sang a Christmas song. That night as the Rudd family gathered for dinner, they gave thanks that they could ring some Christmas cheer to another family and help a little boy receive a bowl of oatmeal.
That young fellow was wise beyond his years. Whether he could find the words to express this thought or not, he likely knew that, while the fleeting sweet taste of Christmas candy or some other holiday treat would bring him a temporary sense of pleasure, in order to be fulfilled, he needed truly to be nourished. Most of us take such nourishment for granted. How many of us have ever been hungry enough in a physical sense that we have yearned for something so simple, so basic, indeed, something seemingly so bland, as oatmeal?
Conversely, it is possible to prosper in terms of material things, yet to be spiritually impoverished at the same time. How many of us have ever been as thirsty, or as hungry as that young boy was in a spiritual sense? As Christ told the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” John 4:13-14.
And as He said just a couple of chapters later, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.” And later in the same chapter: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:27, 47-51, KJV.
I’m reminded of the episode of M*A*S*H in which Major Charles Emerson Winchester, III, becomes upset with the head of an orphanage, who sold the candy the Major had intended, in keeping with a family tradition, as an anonymous Christmas gift to the children, on the black market. Charles demands that he retrieve the candy. Apologizing for failing to carry out the cherished tradition, the headmaster tells Charles that the candy bought enough rice and cabbage to feed the children for a month, whereupon it is Charles who turns contrite, saying, “It is sadly inappropriate to give dessert to a child who has had no meal.”
I’m as guilty as anyone: I might talk a good game, but it takes far more than that to fix any of the problems I might say I’m concerned about. The Epistle of James agrees, reminding us that it takes more than talk to fix such problems: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,” James writes, “And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” James 2:15-16, KJV.
However modestly we may be able – or not – to fulfill the pressing needs (physical or spiritual) of someone else who longs for succor this holiday season, may we at least be grateful for what we have – however modest it might seem (like that cherished bowl of oatmeal). And may we remember what’s truly important this holiday season.