As we fight traffic on the way home from school, my 7-year-old son, Dillon, and I often play the game "What would you rather do?" Usually the questions are similar to "Would you rather clean toilets with your toothbrush or scrape dead bugs off the windshield with your teeth?"
Like I said, he's 7.
One day he asked, "Mom, what would you rather do? Would you rather be a street person or dead?"
"What?" I asked.
"You know," he said casually as he looked out the window at our inner-city neighborhood. "If you had to choose, would you rather be dead or begging for money?"
His tone told me that he would rather choose death, and it troubled me.
Living where we do, our children have seen more drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill people than most kids their ages. City life has benefits, but it also has costs that involve explaining complicated issues.
I ignored his question and launched into my well-practiced spiel about how we give to shelters and churches that help the homeless. I explained that life always holds hope for the future, but death is permanent for our physical bodies.
He may have been satisfied with my words, but I wasn't.
Dillon said, "I guess we should count our blessings."
"Yeah," I agreed, but his words made me uncomfortable.
I know the importance of stopping to appreciate our loved ones, job, shelter, food, clothing and all the extras we don't really need. Yet, counting our blessings while passing a young meth addict holding a sign about her children and abusive husband seems selfish and arrogant. Should gratitude be thankfulness for another's misfortunes that we escaped?
I told my son, "I don't think it's enough to count our blessings and be thankful. Thankfulness should move us to action."
"What does that mean?" he asked as we passed another young woman on the street corner with a cardboard sign.
"Counting your blessings can be a selfish act. It doesn't help the people begging for spare change to buy food, get a job or feel cherished. To appreciate what we have is good, but more than that, we need to give back."
I glanced at him.
My son seemed to understand, but I still wrestled with what I had said. I thought about the good Samaritan. When he saw someone who needed help, he was spurred to action.
My family is re-examining what it means to be thankful this holiday season. I never want my children to count their blessings in lieu of reaching out. We decided it's not the season to gloat over our gifts and mumble a few grateful prayers.
As we look for ways to serve the people in our community, we intend to turn our gratitude into action and pass the hope we have been given in Christ to others.