Once More with Gratitude
Christian minister, author and speaker, Gordon Dalbey,1 tells how he hit a crisis at the end of his first year as a seminary student at Harvard Divinity School. Not only had all the money he had saved to finance his studies run out already, but he was also $1,000 in debt.
As his worries grew Dalbey became more and more aware of advertisements enticing him to try his luck in the State Lottery. Eventually he bought two 50 cent tickets with his lunch money. It was only a harmless game he told himself, but if he won, all his worries would be over. When the day came for the Lottery to be drawn, Dalbey remembers rushing to the display stand where the winning numbers looked down at him. "I examined my tickets . . . . Not even close. Maybe, though, if only the third number could have been first and the second had been . . . ."
A few weeks later, having cashed his student loan cheque and paid some bills, Dalbey had $50 left over. "Surely if I buy 100 tickets at 50 cents each I would have to win something," he found himself thinking. Within days he ran into a friend from church. Business had been terrible complained his friend, in fact things had got so bad that he'd even considered playing the lottery! Dalbey's mouth dropped open.
"But you know," said his friend, "I got to thinking and I realised how much I have which I take for granted. So I began giving thanks to God for what I already have: my wife, my kids, everything."
"I never bought another lottery ticket after that," says Dalbey, "I learned to confess my little faith and give thanks for what I had."
Dalbey's lesson was two-fold. He learned to trust God, who opens his hand so freely towards us, and he learned to be grateful. These two lessons are in some way intertwined, and they are lessons which we are given the opportunity to learn and relearn throughout our lives.
Living as we do, immersed in the goodness of God, we are blind to the enormity of his provision and kindness towards us. As a fish is not aware of the water it swims in, so we are unaware of the richness of our existence and we take God's gifts to us for granted.
A case in point: the other night while I was cooking dinner we suffered a power cut and everything went black and silent. Aucklanders may scoff, but where I come from 40 minutes is a long time to be without electricity. It was interesting to notice my reactions as the minutes ticked by and the darkness remained. The expectation that everything would return to normal 'any minute now', was followed by frustration when it didn't.
It was several minutes before it occurred to me that I did not remember ever having been grateful for electricity. I had merely accepted it as my right. I remembered the tales of erratic electricity supply told by friends who had lived in a slum in the Philippines. For some people, the frustration I was feeling was a daily event. I apologised to the Lord for the myriad times the electricity had been there when I flicked the switch and I had never thought to thank him for it.
Jean Paul Richter once said that for sleep, riches and health to be truly enjoyed they must be interrupted. Maybe that is true for just about everything. So far this year two women I know have lost their husbands in tragic accidents. I still have mine. I have learned to be grateful for every day that God gives us together.
I have been told that in the Jewish world it is traditional to try to find at least 100 occasions each day to give God thanks. An attempt to develop this habit quickly reveals to us how unused we are to being grateful. Yet such a practice heightens our awareness of God. As we learn to be grateful for the provision of God, our eyes are opened to his goodness toward us and our faith is strengthened. As we thank him for all the good things in our lives (which had previously gone unnoticed) we begin to see that this God who heaps so many blessings upon us can be trusted with our well being. And so our faith grows.
Gambling is a symptom of the desire to have more and to have it without effort. It is born out of the 'if only' mind-set. What a powerful change is wrought if instead, our mind-set is one of gratitude. God does not promise us a life without sorrow. He does promise us his sustenance in our trouble. Learning to accept with gratitude the many gifts God showers on us each day and to focus on these rather than on 'what might have been' is the beginning of real joy, and a deeper trust in God.