I really want an iPhone. All my friends have one. I know my parents say we can’t afford it, but I think that’s not fair. I’m not sure what my question is—I just know I really want one. Do you have any advice for me?
Shalom from the Holy Land! That’s right—I’m in Israel as I write this. In answer to your question, let me tell you a spiritual story from the spiritual city of Jerusalem. I was praying at the Western Wall three consecutive mornings, and each day I saw the same woman praying sincerely, greeting fellow worshippers pleasantly, and wearing the same rumpled clothing—and the same ripped hose—those three days in a row. Each day, I tried to figure out a way to give this woman some money without embarrassing her.
Finally, on the third day, I remembered a story I had read in Katie Byron’s Loving What Is about a young man who performed a specific random act of kindness. He would take a dollar from his own wallet, purposely drop it on the ground, then tap a kid on the shoulder, pick up the dollar, say to the kid, “Here—you dropped this,” give him the dollar, and walk away.
I plotted and planned how I could do that for this woman. I made sure to finish praying before she did, then waited until she completed her prayers. As she was leaving, I dropped a 20 shekel bill on the ground right near her, tapped her on the shoulder, picked up the bill, and told her (in Hebrew): “Here, this is yours.”
Do you know what this sincere, pleasant, content-looking woman in her dingy clothing said to me? With a big smile? “No, it’s not mine.” She knew she hadn’t had a 20 shekel bill! I pressed the issue again and said, “Yes, this is yours!” Again she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “No, it’s not mine.” She was honest and sincere, and not tempted at all to take money that she knew wasn’t hers.
You, my friend, along with many, many other people these days, suffer from “I-deserve-it-It’s-coming-to-me”-itis.
Let me tell you another story, also from my stay here in Israel. I went to Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum). It describes, in excruciating detail, including video footage, photos, and personal affects, what the Nazis did to the Jews during World War II. I had wanted to see the entire museum, but about halfway through I couldn’t continue because I could not stop crying. The final straw which left me an emotional running faucet was a video taken in the Lodz Ghetto. In each ghetto during the war, the Nazis forced many Jews to live in just a few small streets, they put gates around those streets, the Jews weren’t allowed out, and not much food was allowed in. This video showed many small children in the Lodz Ghetto with skinny skinny arms and stick-thin legs and hollowed-out faces lying listlessly on the sidewalk, sometimes begging for food. Then it showed a six-year-old little girl sitting on the sidewalk against a building, crying horrifically and shaking her (also very very skinny) four-year-old brother again and again, trying to get him to wake up…which he never did.
Luxuries are wants, not needs.
God has given us so much. We have enough food; we’re not starving. We have a house to live in. We have shoes on our feet. We should be dancing and singing and thanking God for his bountiful goodness.
True, we don’t have every luxury we want. But luxuries are wants, not needs. We should all be grateful for what God has given us, thank Him for it, and use our gifts wisely and well to help others and to bring more happiness and peace to the world.
I was once giving a talk to people 80 years old and older. I went around the room asking them what was the happiest day of their lives. Many of the women said, “The days each of my children were born.” Then one man said to me, “The day we were liberated from the ghetto.” The day he didn’t have to starve anymore! His answer struck me with tremendous force. It made me realize: we have nothing to complain about. I’m sorry you can’t have an iPhone, but I think it behooves all of us to be grateful for all the gifts we do have.