Sometimes we don’t know what to truly appreciate in life.
There is a time-honored story about four brothers who left home for college. They became successful doctors and lawyers and prospered. Some years later, they chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived far away in another city.
The first said, “I had a big house built for Mama.” The second said, “I had a $100,000 theater built in the house.” The third said, “I had my Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her.”
The fourth said, “You know how Mama loved reading the Bible and you know she can’t read anymore because she can’t see very well. I found a parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took 10 years for him to learn it. And I just bought him. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it.”
The other brothers were impressed.
After the holidays Mom sent out her thank-you notes. She wrote: “Milton, the house you built is so huge I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway.”
“Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home; I have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks.”
“Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound; it could hold 50 people but all of my friends are dead, I’ve lost my hearing and I’m nearly blind. I’ll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same.”
“Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious. Thank you.”
This Thursday, 100 million turkeys will make the ultimate sacrifice so that we may stuff ourselves. While the eating part always sounds like fun, I wonder if the average American has authentic feelings of gratitude and appreciation on Thanksgiving. Evidence that we have lost its meaning may be found in the fact that many, including greeting card companies, simply call this Thursday “Turkey Day.”
If you have read much of M. Scott Peck’s writings, you will notice that he tends to focus a lot on discipline and character development. He also refers to a sense of gratitude as important in healthy character development and spiritual growth.
Peck seems to suggest that there are two kinds of people in this regard: Those who have a sense of gratitude and those who have a sense of entitlement. For those who live out of a sense of entitlement, everything is taken for granted, nothing is truly appreciated; those individuals feel they are entitled to everything they have and more.
This sense of entitlement may be more of a danger in America than anywhere else. The more you travel, the more you see how relatively affluent we really are here; it is easier for us to have feelings of entitlement to outnumber feelings of gratitude.
Those with a sense of gratitude understand that they are not the center of the universe. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is a gift. When something good happens to them, it is a gift to be treasured and for which to be profoundly grateful.
The person with this understanding of life is grateful for their health, for their family, for their faith, for the people they meet each day. Life is a gift and they are so, so thankful. And when things go wrong, they shore themselves up; they recognize that life is 10 percent what happens to them and 90 percent how they respond.
Chaplain Jeff Huber tells a true story about a man named Gary, who came to know God late in life. Gary’s teenage daughter was the first member of the family to attend church. She convinced the rest of the family to come with her. Once Gary understood the message of God’s salvation through Jesus, he became a Christian. Not long afterwards, he was diagnosed with cancer.
The cancer struck quickly. In the short time that Gary had left, he spent a lot of time with Huber, reading over the Scriptures. Every story, every lesson was fresh and exciting to him. In the last few days of Gary’s life, Huber brought Communion to Gary and his family. He remembers how joyfully Gary received the Communion elements. He couldn’t stop talking about how thankful he was. He said, “I begin to see all the things God has done for me and how he has carried me through this time. When I begin to praise and thank God here, I find joy.”
I don’t know about you, but I find such genuine expressions of gratitude in the face of unbelievable heartache almost overwhelming. And I begin to realize my own sense of entitlement.
Here is what we need to see: the happiest people on this planet are those who live with a sense of gratitude. Giving thanks to God isn’t a duty; it is the key to joy.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.