Silver spoons and sacrifice

“Born with a silver spoon in his mouth” is a mocking way we sometimes refer to people we think “enjoy” life with too much privilege and affluence and too little responsibility, hard work and sacrifice. 

Although usually spoken with less-than-noble intent, I think the phrase nevertheless points to an enduring truth, albeit one we recognize more in others than in ourselves.

For most of us it seems obvious that it isn’t healthy for a kid to be “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” and grow up in an environment where everything is “handed to them on a silver platter” (another familiar aphorism/folk saying). Nor is it healthy for any adult to live in such effortless irresponsibility.

We intuitively recognize that “normal” living requires the mature ability to deal with the responsibilities, challenges and sacrifices of daily life. And even though we might at times yearn for a “silver spoon” life – as lottery ads entice us – our common sense usually prevails in keeping our feet on the ground of daily reality.

Yet it seems to me we all live in what is perhaps the most silver spoon culture in all of history.

Except for the “Greatest Generation” – folks who lived through the deprivations and sacrifices of the Great Depression (1930s) and Second World War – most of us have enjoyed lives of remarkable prosperity, peace and absence of danger. We have not experienced food rationing, conscription and constant anxiety over the fate of family and community young people engaged in deadly combat overseas. We have not faced possible invasion or terrorist attacks in our towns and cities.

Has there ever been a people able to live so free of the dangers, violence and fear that has been the norm for most people in human history? Of course this has been a good thing. And we strive for a world where all people can enjoy this kind of “silver spoon” life, this kind of security and peace.

But let us not forget our common sense wariness of “silver spoon” life. In our society’s enjoyment of this good life largely free of dangers, violence and fear, in our pursuit of individual fulfillment and rampant consumer consumption is it not true that we have diminished in our recognition and appreciation for the qualities of responsibility, hard work and sacrifice. 

In less prosperous and safe cultures, even in our own history, it has always been obvious that the wellbeing of the community depends on the willingness of grown-ups to shoulder responsibility, work hard and generally sacrifice self-interest for the greater good, and especially for a better future for their children.

This Saturday we are remembering the millions of our fellow Canadians who have lived this reality, many giving the ultimate sacrifice of losing their lives for their country. No matter our religious or philosophical beliefs about war, these folks and their families deserve our profound respect, admiration and thanks. 

In the New Testament book of Hebrews the writer reminds his readers of the many faithful people from the past upon whose shoulders they stand:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (12:1)

We also are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who, if we let them, can show and inspire us to “run the race,” to live as they did, to the great betterment of generations to come. Our families, our communities, our churches, our institutions, our economy, our country – did not just happen all by themselves, but were built by the faithful hard work and sacrifices of our forbears. 

We don’t have to look very far afield to see how very fortunate and blessed we are. Most places and people in the world do not enjoy the remarkable prosperity, peace and absence of danger we are privilege to. We have much to be deeply grateful for; many departed “witnesses” to be deeply grateful to.

So let us feel and express that gratitude once again this Saturday. And let us put some meat on the bones of our thanks by resolving to follow the example of our benefactors in committing ourselves to taking responsibility for preserving the good things we have been given, to work as hard and be willing to sacrifice as much as they did for the wellbeing of future generations. 

In so doing we will also discover the truth of life so many of our forbears discovered in their sacrificial living: the “good life” we all long for is not found in silver spoons and lottery riches, but in living one’s life committed to the hard work and sacrifices that enrich the present and future wellbeing of our community and our children.