The Little Red Hen

This past week I’ve been listening to Calvin, who’s in first grade, practicing his reading.  He’s reading simple stories like this.

Do you remember this story from your childhood?

I do.


Once upon a time, there was a little red hen.  She found some seeds of wheat.  She wanted to plant the wheat.  “Who will help me plant the wheat?” she asked.

“Not I” said the dog.

“Not I” said the cat.

“Not I” said the pig.

So, the little red hen planted the wheat herself.  The wheat began to grow, and soon it was time to harvest the wheat.  “Who will help me harvest the wheat?” she asked.

“Not I” said the dog.

“Not I” said the cat.

“Not I” said the pig.

So the little red hen harvested the wheat herself.  Next, the wheat needed to be ground into flour.  The little red hen asked, “Who will help me grind the wheat?”

“Not I” said the dog.

“Not I” said the cat.

“Not I” said the pig.

So the little red hen ground the wheat herself.  Then the flour could be baked into bread.  The little red hen asked, “who will help me bake the bread?”

“Not I” said the dog.

“Not I” said the cat.

“Not I” said the pig.

So the little red hen made the bread herself.  When the bread was baking, the good smell of fresh bread wafted out over the barnyard.  Then, the little red hen said, “Who will help me eat the bread?”

“I will!” said the dog.

“I will!” said the cat.

“I will!” said the pig.

But the little red hen said to them, “You would not help me plant the wheat.  You would not help me harvest the wheat.  You would not help me grind the wheat.  You cannot eat any of the bread.” And she ate all the bread herself.


Why am I telling this story?  This story is a morality tale, isn’t it?  You don’t work, you don’t eat.  It’s the touchstone for almost everything in our culture: how we view work, how we view success, how we view charity, how we view poverty.  A lack of willingness to work is one of the great sins.

It affects my ability to receive.  I have a great deal of trouble receiving.  I am a giver.  It’s how I justify my presence on the planet (yes, I have uttered this phrase, too many times.  I’m learning.  Slowly, but learning).

I am much more comfortable giving than receiving.  And now I am the guest of people who live on much less than I do back in the states.  And my urge to give goes into overdrive.  I think nothing of spending 60 rand for lunch, it’s only six dollars, less than I would spend for lunch at a restaurant in Austin.  60 rand goes a lot further in our hosts’ house.  I would like to give money to them to pay for the meals they are feeding us, but they don’t want that.  They want to give.  I must receive.

It’s hard!!!!!!  Everything in me says that in all fairness, I should be the giver here.  I have more.  Those with more give to those with less.  That’s the rule, says my moral system.  But my hosts want to give of what they have.  I dishonor their offering if I try to pay for it.  I can’t do that to such loving, good people.

So, the little red hen speaks up.  You must work!  Offer to do the dishes.  Help set the table.  It’s another desperate effort to be the giver, not the receiver.  This ethos dies hard.

But my hosts don’t really want that either.  They want us to sit and enjoy the food, enjoy the company.  I do offer to help, but my offers are turned down.  The little red hen is not welcome here.

So humbly, I am learning again.

I feel like I am always making mistakes.  Hopefully my love shines through and my gracious hosts forgive my mistakes.  I am humbled, I am cared for, and I am blessed.

6 thoughts on “The Little Red Hen

  1. Sometimes the offer is the greatest gift.

  2. Sending love and hugs to you, Martin, John, Joan and Calvin!

  3. This is how Greg Mortenson felt when the man who rescued him
    was feeding him and taking care of his injuries, was very poor. He was climbing a mountain in Pakistan and got injured. He would have died if this man had not helped him.
    This is from his book “Three Cups of Tea”. He repaid him by building a school for the man’s community.
    I think you are helping people there by providing clothes for the children and other activities.
    You empower them when you allow them to thank you with their hospitality.

  4. The inner conflict keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? I enjoy just that you communicate with us here, to help keep our connection there. Thank you for that!

  5. Oh my yes! We Americans really have an ethos that wants to give to fix everything, even out the discrepancies between our culture and many other cultures. If only we can absorb the notion that equalizing our use of resources is the key. Changing how I live in wasteful ways can help bring some kind of equity on this planet. It is not about self denial or deprivation, it is about being awake!

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