During the Great Depression (1929–1939), a wealthy bakery owner gathered twenty of the poorest children in the city and told them, “Until God improves our situation here, all of you can come to my bakery to get one loaf of bread daily.”
Every morning, these starving children would swarm to the bakery, pushing and shoving each other to reach the baker and his basket of bread, each hoping to get the biggest loaf of bread. After getting their loaf of bread, they hurriedly left without even saying thank you.
Only one impoverished girl named Gretchen was different. She did not push or shove, nor did she fight for the biggest loaf. She always stepped aside humbly and waited patiently for the other children to take their bread and leave. Then she would grab the smallest loaf of bread left. Before leaving, she never forgot to give a kiss to the baker’s hand to show her gratitude, then she would happily run home.
One day, after all the kids grabbed their loaf of bread and left, timid little Gretchen received an even smaller loaf of bread than usual. However, she did not forget to give the baker’s hand a kiss and say thank you. After returning home, Gretchen’s mom sliced the loaf of bread and discovered that inside the bread was hidden some new, shiny silver coins!
Surprised, her mother said, “Gretchen, take these silver coins back to the baker immediately. He must have accidently dropped some coins into the flour while preparing the bread. Make sure you deliver these coins straight to the kind baker’s hands.”
When Gretchen arrived at the bakery to return the coins, the baker said, “My dear girl, this was not a mistake. I intentionally put those silver coins in there. Let me tell you something: God will give fortune and happiness to humble people. I hope you will always maintain a peaceful and grateful heart. Now go home and tell your mother that this money is a reward from God.”
(Story Source: Harvard Family Instruction)
I took three lessons away from this story.
First, happy people are not people with the best material possessions, but rather people who are grateful and kind. Although little Gretchen got the smallest loaf of bread each time, she was the happiest kid because her heart felt gratitude.
The Baker is also a happy man because he is a kind person who continued giving bread to these children every single day. The other kids lacked gratitude since they didn’t even say a simple “thank-you”. Despite getting bigger pieces of bread than Gretchen, they might be upset that they did not get the biggest piece of bread. What a shame.
Second, people like to help humble people and dislike arrogant and selfish people. I imagine this kind Baker was helping these impoverished children out of his duty to God. But when he saw how humble and yielding Gretchen was, he was compelled to help her even more. By not trying to get out ahead, Gretchen ended up being ahead.
Side note: bread is a pretty humble food isn’t it? It usually avoids being the center of attention, its taste is mild, and it complements other foods really well. Because bread is humble, people like it.
Thirdly, good education is of utmost importance. Gretchen has a virtuous mother who taught her to be humble and honest. The other kids probably did not have as virtuous of parents. The Baker also received virtuous religious teachings around kindness and love. Otherwise, he wouldn’t donate food to these poor children. Virtuous education is key to a happy and prosperous life. While we cannot change the education we received in the past, we can choose our education starting today. Read virtuous books, listen to virtuous podcasts, follow virtuous role models on social media, and avoid all the negative content out there.
For me, I’ve done a good job cutting out negative content from my life, and I reflect on at least one specific thing that I was grateful for every day. However, I can still do a better job in terms of gratitude and humility, which is clearly evidenced by the fact that I still have conflicts with people. If we can constantly keep in mind what we appreciate about others and the importance of humility, we would definitely have great relationships.
Those are my reflections for now. What lessons did you take away?