Like everyone else, I’ve been trying lately to navigate life under threat of the corona virus. I read news articles about the pandemic spreading through the country and in my state. I’m trying to deal with social distancing rules at work while my wife is now homeschooling all of the kids. Life is definitely different now. Amid all of this I keep having a thought and felt like it might be appropriate to write about here. It has to do with that delicate balance between being prepared and hoarding supplies during a crisis. Furthermore, it has to do with how we should treat others during this crisis.
I go grocery shopping and find empty shelves where stacks of toilet paper and paper towels once stood. Occasionally, I find it hard to get the supplies our family needs for our normal use in a regular week (like baby formula or wipes). When I do happen to find some, I’m torn between the need to get the resources I know my family will use and still try to be courteous to other shoppers who are searching for the same limited supplies.
There is a tendency, during times of crisis, to stockpile supplies that may be needed. We’re all seeing that play out right now. There is certainly something to be said for being prepared; my own church leaders have counseled members for years to have a supply of food on hand. And my own experience seems to suggest there is a fine line between preparedness and panic. It can be difficult. But I wonder if we might be missing the mark just a little. I have heard plenty of people tell how they are including firearms and ammunition in with their food storage. The idea being that they may have to defend their stores against everyone else who didn’t stock up and are now desperately looking to get what they can wherever they can. I just read an article today describing the run on guns and ammunition that is occurring right now.
The thought I keep having is, what if the answer to the shortages we are experiencing is the exact opposite of the natural reaction of hoarding supplies?
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I regard the Book of Mormon as scripture. In one passage, a prophet named Jacob expresses his concern that the people of his time were too focused on gaining material wealth. The counsel he gives to his people is: “before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.” After we “have obtained a hope in Christ,” Jacob says that the Lord will bless us to obtain riches, if we seek for them. But in the process of obtaining hope in Christ our hearts are changed so that we no longer want those riches for ourselves, but “for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted” (Jacob 2:18-19).
These are interesting thoughts, but they are made all the more interesting by the verse immediately preceding them: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you” (Jacob 2:17).
I’ve been struck by that last line: that they may be rich like unto you. It’s almost as if Jacob is saying that when you share with others, it will not decrease your wealth, but will lift others up and all will become wealthy.
I have wondered lately if it is appropriate to replace the word “riches” in these verses with some of the supplies people are searching for these days—“toilet paper,” for instance. Is it possible that if I share my supplies I will be blessed to not run out of them and, in fact, there will be enough for everyone?
There are similar thoughts in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-33). Also “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:42).
The Old Testament account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath provides an interesting illustration of what I’m talking about. There’s a famine in the land and the prophet Elijah finds a widow and asks her for some food and water. The widow replies that she only as enough for one last meal for herself and her son. Elijah encourages her to share what little she has, promising that there will be enough for all three of them. Furthermore he promises that she won’t run out of food until the famine ends. “And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not...” (1 Kings 17:15-16).
Now, what would have happened if the widow had refused? What would have happened if she decided that she needed to defend her supply of food and attacked Elijah?
There are other stories of miraculous occurrences centered on someone’s decision to share what meager supplies they have.
In Matthew 14, Jesus found himself among a crowd of 5,000 people who didn’t have any food. Rather than sending them all away, as his disciples suggested, Jesus decided to feed them. I wonder how many skeptics in the crowd thought he was crazy to suggest feeding everyone when there were only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to be divided among them all. But, not only were they all “filled” but the leftovers added up to more than they started with. (See Matthew 14:15-21)
In the very next chapter, Jesus feeds 4,000 people from only seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Again, the leftovers added up to more than they started with. (See Matthew 15:32-38).
Ask yourself what would have happened if those who had the loaves of bread and the fish had refused to share, thinking they needed that food for themselves.
In the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes experiences she and her sister Betsy had while confined in the Ravensbruck concentration camp during WWII. They had managed to sneak a bottle of vitamin oil in with them and Corrie would give a drop to Betsy every morning, but worried at how long it would last. Corrie admitted that “my instinct was always to hoard it,” but Betsy had a habit of sharing with anyone else who was sick. “And still,” Corrie reports, “every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the tip of the glass stopper. It just couldn’t be!” The sisters compared it to the miracle with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. “It was one thing to believe that such things were possible thousands of years ago, another to have it happen now, to us, this very day. And yet it happened this day, and the next, and the next, until an awed little group of spectators stood around watching the drops fall onto the daily rations of bread.” This miracle continued until the very day that someone else managed to sneak some vitamins from the infirmary.
My own family history provides another miraculous account. During the early days of Utah food was often scarce. It became scarcer still when swarms of crickets devoured the crops. As the story goes, Andrew Burnham was one of the few who had a supply of flour and meal in his granary. Occasionally, people would come to ask if he had any to sell. The reply was always that there wasn’t any for sale, but anyone in need was welcome to a portion. Before long, Andrew found himself dividing his last sack of flour with a needy neighbor. The very next morning, another neighbor came asking for help. The neighbor was told of the situation but Andrew offered to see if they could perhaps sweep up a few cups. The story is that upon opening the door of the granary they found all the sacks filled with flour and meal just as they had been before Andrew Burnham started sharing. The food supply is said to have lasted as long as the food shortage continued.
I have come to believe that those of us who claim to believe in God need to step up here. We need to have the faith that miracles will happen to those who are willing to share.
Fortunately, there are those who are doing this; those stories are out there, too. I smile to think that someday, somewhere, someone will recount the story of how their supply of toilet paper was miraculously replenished just after sharing their last roll.
Now, I realize that this topic doesn’t really fit with all the other Scouting themed stuff I have reserved this blog for. But I believe Scouting embraces the principles I’ve been talking about. You might recognize the words Helpful, Courteous, and Kind.