From Thankless to Thankful: A Change in Perspective

Praise be to God! I am thankful. I am thankful to be here. I am thankful for my family, for my friends, for the people in my congregation, and for all the possibilities of life. Praise be to God! I am thankful. How often do we truly express our thankfulness? And I don’t mean just saying a simple thank you and be done with it. But I mean truly living each day of our lives as living thanksgiving to God. I would venture to say we don’t do so very often. Sometimes we just go about our business not realizing the work of God in our lives and world. But there are times, I believe, we could refocus ourselves upon God and his blessings thus finding relief from frustration and challenges.

Patience has always been a struggle for me. It is not something that comes naturally to me but it is something I work very hard on. This week has seemed like a losing battle for me. On Monday, as I sat at the podiatrist’s office and awaited my diagnosis, I was nervous. And sure enough, my diagnosis matched what I suspected it would be. No ruptured tendons but lots and lots of damage all throughout my foot that will require surgery probably within the next year. I was not feeling very grateful in those first few hours after the diagnosis and felt generally overwhelmed, tired, and upset. There are times when I struggle to feel thankful, and this was one of them, yet in my mind I kept telling myself to take slow calming breaths, this wouldn’t last forever and this surgery promises the relief I have been seeking since I was 16. I then started looking around and listing all the things I was thankful for in my life and surprisingly my frustration began to dissipate. Reminding myself to be grateful, to be thankful, put everything into perspective and I have been able to start processing and planning. We are all constantly moving from grateful to ungrateful and hopefully back again. This is a reality we deal with as human beings.

The leper colony we met with today in the scriptures has more to do with gratitude than it does about the miracle Jesus performs on their behalf. Here there was a group of 10 people presumably 9 Jews and 1 Samaritan; this would have been scandalous if they were healthy because Samaritans were seen as lesser people and dangerous just because of where they were from. But this unlikely group was united because of their disease which at that time melted away the restrictions of society. They held their suffering in common. They were each other’s support system united by their unfortunate situation.

Jesus looked upon this suffering group with compassion and sympathy something they did not receive from others in society. The common people had become so accustomed to leper colonies that they had just accepted this as a way of the world and ignored their pain. Jesus looked on and saw more than just the missing hands and feet and the telltale signs of the blisters of grey rot on their skin. He saw human souls in need and he healed them. Yet only one was made whole, though all were healed. Only one received a healing on a much deeper level than the others. Because of his praise, his gratitude, the Samaritan was truly made whole that day because he learned the true meaning of joy which came from God and in his gratitude he was able to accept God more fully than his fellow sufferers. Meister Eckhart wrote in the 4th century, “If the only prayer you said was thank you that would be enough”.[1]

We are all searching for that lasting joy that lifts us up in all the experiences of this life, a joy that starts with the recognition of the hand of God in all the different experiences of this life. It is the recognition that God gives to us blessings in life, the strength that pulls us through struggles when we face them. It is that feeling of contentment with what we have been given in this life. Happiness is rooted in being thankful for what we do have and realizing that no matter our experiences, the one thing we do have is the love of God that will never fade, and never lessen with time. It is a love that is given freely and for that we should all hold that same sense of gratefulness in our hearts as the Psalmist did this morning or the Samaritan did from our Gospel lesson this morning.

To begin a life of thankfulness is easy enough, for we only need to begin in the simplest of ways. We only need to say a genuine thank you focused on God’s love. So often we thank those individuals around us who do things for us but we forget about God. Remembering that God is an integral part of our lives really helps to remind us that troubles don’t last forever and that we are never truly alone. There are always little blessings springing to life around us and in each season of life.

Sometimes remembering that we have something to give thanks for, helps remind us that life is good. I know it sounds a little silly but when I think of thankfulness I think of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh when he wrote “Piglet noticed that even though he has a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude”.[2] Gratitude is something that begins small and grows as we practice it more and more. It can be a calming exercise and one that inspires us and grounds us in God.

So, this morning we are called to live the thankful life. We are called to remember the gifts and the blessings, to make those our focus instead of the frustrations and unfairness of life. We are called to start with the smallest of tasks simply thanking God for what we have in life as Eckhart pointed out. Take the first step towards accepting the fulfillment in life that God offers. Take the first step this week, even today. Say a prayer of thanksgiving each day and find that one thing you can be grateful for and each day it will get easier and you’ll find more and more to thank God for.  With each new morning, we should begin the day as our Psalmist suggested saying, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart”.[3] So go into this week thanking God and feel the contentedness that only comes from finding and appreciating the work on God in your lives.

[1] Eckhart, Meister. Selected Writings. 4th Century AD.

[2] Milne, A. A. Winnie-the-Pooh.

[3] Psalm 111: 1, NRSV.