When I was an undergraduate student at Northern Arizona University, my friends and I went to a restaurant and ordered food. After we finished, we realized that we didn’t have money to leave a tip. We were poor and struggling students so we decided to write a note of appreciation instead. It was a simple note of thanks for the food and the service.
We signed it, “NAU students”. We left feeling a little embarrassed at our choice.
The next time we came to the restaurant, there was our note taped in a conspicuous place under the glass for all to see. We had no clue that it would mean so much to the proprietor.
Often little deeds of gratitude mean more than we can imagine. Even Christ noticed the ingratitude of the 10 lepers whom he healed. Only one came back to say, “Thank you.” The other nine were off to enjoy their freedom. One came back and received an extra blessing because he was willing to express gratitude. Christ asked about the other nine. I’m sure Christ felt alone at that time and unappreciated. There were probably many times people received blessings at his hand and went on their way without a backwards glance of gratitude.
Even today we go merrily on our way, thinking of our own lives, seldom turning our thoughts to the one who gave all so that we could be free. His death on the cross is an Easter discussion, his birth a Christmas memory, and his life a Biblical thing.
I can’t help but wonder how he must feel when we, like the nine lepers, march over the hill without so much as a smile and wave. Even worse, how he must feel when we complain about our circumstances when we have more than all of the kings and queens who ever lived? We have air-conditioned homes, and inch-deep carpets on our floors. We have running water and bathrooms with toilets and tubs. We have pantries full of food and garages with cars that take us wherever we want to go with a turn of the key. We have the Internet and mass media that were unheard of even in my childhood.
Yet we get up in the morning and complain because the eggs are a little too done. We curse and complain because we have to wait a few minutes in traffic. We look in our closets filled with a plethora of styles and colors, yet we turn up our nose and say, “I don’t have anything to wear!” We are the healthiest people in the world, yet we complain that we have a headache and go to the cupboard to choose from numerous types of over-the-counter pain relievers. I wonder what he thinks.
I also wonder about the founding fathers that spilled the best blood of a generation to buy our freedom to be independent of monarchy and tyranny, and we run to the government to solve our problems. Where is the boot-strap principle of the American dream? Where are those who will plant their feet firmly in the tradition of “six days shalt thou labor”? I wonder what the founding fathers think when they see us endorsing government bailouts and handouts. I am sure they moan with the knowledge of where it will take us.
People who allow themselves to be fed by the government will soon find that they are controlled by the government. Ask the colonists. Ask the Germans under Hitler. Ask the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein. Ask the people of Cuba. Where is the gratitude for what our founding fathers gave us?
Gratitude is a memory sparker. If we think of something long enough to realize how it has affected us, we will likely remember it. If we express that gratitude, the memory is further imprinted in our brains. If it is something that has changed our lives for the better, and we recognize it and repeat the rehearsal of gratitude, the change in our lives will become permanent.
Perhaps that is why Christ wondered about the nine lepers. Maybe that is why the leper who returned to express gratitude was twice blessed. When we take the time to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and express our gratitude, we are filled with a deeper sense of his love for us. If we don’t take time to express our gratitude, we feel the heaviness of things we don’t have. We see a never-ending stream of what we wish we had, and our loneliness and selfishness grow in proportion to our unfulfilled desires. The more we focus on our wants versus our haves, the more we feel dissatisfied and disgruntled by our situation.
Gratitude ties our hearts to other people. We can’t really be grateful for something that does not involve other people. Someone has made our opportunity or our blessing possible. I started thinking about things I was grateful for and realized that I can’t name just one person or thing; it is an entire chain.
For example, one of my most treasured possessions is my scriptures. First of all I love the book, but the book would be nothing without the words inside. I think of all the prophets and historians who wrote the information on scrolls to be handed down from one person to another. Then I thought about my inability to read Hebrew. Somebody had to translate the words into English. I can thank King James for that.
Then I thought about the fact that I am able to read. That started with Mrs. Capps, my first-grade teacher who was followed by a long line of teachers who taught me not only to read but to comprehend what I was reading. I thought about the other authors who wrote books on my reading level so that I could practice until I was able to read the scriptures on my own. Then I thought about the people who invented paper and the printing press. There were even people who developed the alphabet and figured out how to put words together. The list is endless.
So often we don’t take time to think. We just meander through life with daily agendas floating around in our brains. We think about what we have to do, where we are going, what we will fix for dinner, when the kids come home, careers and retirement. We seldom just sit down and think about the things we are really grateful for. Sometimes it takes a tragedy or a mishap to make us consider what we are thankful for.
I used to be a prolific journal writer. I would write every day and the patterns of the wonderful to the tragic would unfold to me as I reread the things that I had written. Writing became therapeutic because I could see the hand of God in my life. I started to see my life as one directed and guided by a loving Heavenly Father. I could be grateful that every prayer I prayed was not answered with, “yes.” I could see that the “no” answers were blessings in disguise.
I could see that if I had gotten what I wanted, I would have missed out on the things that truly enriched my life. If I had married right out of high school to a football player cowboy, I would never have become a writer. I would never have traveled to meet my brothers and sisters in Christ in Italy. I would never have met the thousands of wonderful people who have become my friends over the years. My friendships are treasures that I never would have experienced had I received what I prayed for so many years ago.
This summer, I was invited to Baltimore, Maryland, to speak at a prayer breakfast at a county fair. It was a glorious experience to meet a congregation of wonderful Christians who welcomed me into their hearts. I was able to share my witness of Christ and share his love for them. I felt his love mirrored in their eyes. It was one of the sweetest experiences of my life.
God knows each of us individually, and he knows what will eventually make us truly happy. If we insist, he might give us what we want, but it is so much better just to be grateful for what he gives, and trust that he knows the ending of our story. If we follow him, he will make our journey worth all the tears we cry and all the skinned knees we have to experience on the journey toward eternal life.
This Thanksgiving would be a good time to make a list of all the things that have enriched our lives, but it would be better to open our minds to see times where we can express gratitude to God and to our fellowmen. We will never know the power of gratitude, but God will open a well in our hearts that will always be filled with sweetness and love. PD