From You’ll Get Through This
Try as I might to seem cultured, my blue collar often peeks through my tux. It certainly did some years back when I was invited to a minister’s house for tea. I was brand-new to ministry and to our city. He was a seasoned pastor from New Zealand, educated in England. When he asked me to speak at his church, I was honored. When he requested that I come to his house for tea, I was intrigued.
I had never heard of high tea. High fives and “hi, y’all!” and “hi-yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay,” yes. But never high tea. Tea (to West Texas boys) means pitchers, tall glasses, ice cubes, and Lipton. In the spirit of adventure I gladly accepted the invitation. I even acted enthused at the sight of the tea and cookie tray. But then came the moment of truth. The hostess asked what I would like in my tea. She offered two options: “”Lemon? Milk?” I had no clue, but I didn’t want to be rude, and I sure didn’t want to miss out on anything, so I said, “Both.”
The look on her face left no doubt. I’d goofed. “You don’t mix lemon and milk in the same cup,” she softly explained, “unless you want a cup of curdle.”
Some things were not made to coexist. Long-tailed cats and rocking chairs? Bad combination. Bulls in a china closet? Not a good idea. Blessings and bitterness? That mixture doesn’t go over well with God. Combine Heavenly kindness with Earthly ingratitude and expect a sour concoction.
Perhaps you’ve sampled it. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Self-pity does. Bellyaches do. Grumbles and mumbles – no one has to remind us to offer them. Yet they don’t mix well with the kindness we have been given. A spoonful of gratitude is all we need.
Joseph took more than a spoonful. He had cause to be ungrateful. Abandoned. Enslaved. Betrayed. Estranged. Yet try as we might to find tinges of bitterness, we don’t succeed. What we do discover, however, are two dramatic gestures of gratitude.
And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:50-52)
Child naming is no small responsibility. The name sticks for life. Wherever the child goes, whenever the child is introduced, the parents’ decision will be remembered. (Exactly what was Texas Governor Jim Hogg thinking when he named his daughter Ima?) Most parents go to great effort to select the perfect name for their children. Joseph did.
These were the days of abundance. God had rewarded Joseph with a place in Pharaoh’s court and a wife for his own home. The time had come to start a family. The young couple was reclining on the couch when he reached over and patted Asenath’s round, pregnant tummy. “I’ve been thinking about names for our baby.”
“Oh, Joey, how sweet. I have as well. In fact, I bought a name-your-baby book at the grocery store,”
“You won’t need it. I already have the name.”
“What is it?”
“God Made Me Forget.”
“If he made you forget, how can you name him?”
“No, that is the name: God Made Me Forget.”
She gave him that look Egyptian wives always gave their Hebrew husbands. “God Made Me Forget? Every time I call my son, I will say, ‘God Made Me Forget’?” She shook her head and tried it out. “‘It’s time for dinner, God Made Me Forget. Come in and wash your hands, God Made Me Forget.’ I don’t know, Joseph. I was thinking something more like Tut or Ramses, or have you ever considered the name Max? It is a name reserved for special people.”
“No, Asenath, my mind is made up. Each time my son’s name is spoken, God’s name will be praised. God made me forget all the pain and hurt I experienced at the hands of my brothers, and I want everyone to know – I want God to know – I am grateful.”
Apparently, Mrs. Joseph warmed to the idea because at the birth of son number two, she and Joseph called him God Made Me Fruitful. One name honored God’s mercy; the other proclaimed his favor.
Do you think God noticed Joseph’s gesture? A New Testament story provides an answer. Many centuries later “Jesus reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!'” (Luke 17:11-13)
Maybe the men awaited Jesus as he turned a bend in the path. Or perhaps they appeared from behind a grove of trees or a cluster of rocks. Though we don’t know how they came, we can be sure what they yelled. “Unclean! Unclean!” The warning was unnecessary. Their appearance drove people away. Ulcerated skin, truncated limbs, lumpy faces. People avoided lepers. But Jesus pursued them. When he heard their cry, he told them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (v. 14)
The lepers understood the significance of the instructions. Only the priest could reverse the stigma. To their credit the lepers obeyed. To the credit of Jesus they were healed. As they walked, they dropped their crutches and discarded their hoods. Their spines began to straighten, skin began to clear, and smiles began to return. The mass of misery became a leaping, jumping, celebrating chorus of health.
Jesus watched them dance their way over the horizon. And he waited for their return. And he waited. And he waited. The disciples stretched out on the ground. Others went to look for food. Jesus just stood there. He wanted to hear the reunion stories. What did your wife say? How did the kids respond? How does it feel to be healed? Jesus waited for the ten men to return and say thanks. But only one of them came back.
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God, I’m healed!” He fell face down on the ground at Jesus’s feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?” (vv. 15-18)
Even Jesus was astonished. You’d think that neither fire nor hail could have kept them from falling at Jesus’s feet. Where were the other nine? It’s easy to speculate.
Some were too busy to be thankful. They planned to express thanks. But first they needed to find family members, doctors, dogs, parakeets, and neighbors. Just too busy.
Some were too cautious to be thankful. They guarded against joy, kept their hopes down. Waited for the other shoe to drop. Waited to read the fine print. Waited to see what Jesus wanted in return. What’s too good to be true usually is. They were cautious.
Others were too self-centered to be thankful. The sick life was simpler. Now they had to get a job, play a role in society.
Others were too arrogant. They never were that sick. Given enough time, they would have recovered. Besides, to be grateful is to admit to being needy. Who wants to show weakness when you have an image to protect?
Too busy, too cautious, too self-centered, too arrogant. . . too close to home? If this story is any indication, nine out of ten people suffer from ingratitude. Epidemic proportions. Why? Why the appreciation depreciation?
I may have discovered the answer on a recent trip. I was flying home from the Midwest when a snowstorm delayed my arrival in Dallas. I raced to the gate in hopes of catching the final flight of the night for San Antonio. The airport was in a state of contained turmoil, everyone dashing to a gate. The airlines had already loaded extra passengers on my plane. With all the charm I could muster, I asked the attendant, “Are any seats left?”
She looked at her computer screen. “No,” she replied, “I’m afraid. . . . ”
I just knew how she was going to finish the sentence: “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend the night here.” “I’m afraid you’ll need to find a hotel.” “I’m afraid you’ll have to catch the 6:00 a.m. flight to San Antonio.”
But she said none of these. Instead, she looked up and smiled. “I’m afraid there are no more seats in coach. We are going to have to bump you up to first class. Do you mind if we do that?”
“Do you mind if I kiss you?” So I boarded the plane and nestled down in the wide seat with the extra legroom.
Color me thankful.
Not every passenger was as appreciative as I was. A fellow across the aisle from me was angry because he had only one pillow. With the attendants scrambling to lock doors and prepare for the delayed departure, he was complaining about insufficient service. “I paid extra to fly first class. I am accustomed to better attention. I want another pillow!”
On the other side of the aisle, yours truly smiled like a guy who had won the lottery without buying a ticket. One passenger grumbled; the other was grateful. The difference? The crank paid his way into first class. My seat was a gift.
On which side of the aisle do you find yourself?
If you feel the world owes you something, brace yourself for a life of sour hours. You’ll never get reimbursed. The sky will never be blue enough; the steak won’t be cooked enough’; the universe won’t be good enough to deserve a human being like you. You’ll snap and snarl your way to an early grave. “A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks that he gets as much as he deserves.” (Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit: Selected from the Writings and Sayings of Henry Ward Beecher)
The grateful heart, on the other hand, sees each day as a gift. Thankful people focus less on the pillows they lack and more on the privileges they have. I attended a banquet recently in which a wounded soldier was presented with the gift of a free house. He nearly fell over with gratitude. He bounded onto the stage with his one good leg and threw both arms around the presenter. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He hugged the guitar player in the band and the big woman on the front row. He thanked the waiter, the other soldiers, and then the presenter again. Before the night was over, he thanked me! And I didn’t do anything.
Shouldn’t we be equally grateful? Jesus is building a house for us, (John 14:2). Our deed of ownership is every bit as certain as that of the soldier. What’s more, Jesus cured our leprosy. Sin cankered our souls and benumbed our senses. Yet the Man on the path told us we were healed, and lo and behold, we were!
The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God.
For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God’s love. For the thousands of planes that did not crash today. For the men who didn’t cheat on their wives, and the wives who didn’t turn from their men, and the kids who, in spite of unspeakable pressure to dishonor their parents, decided not to do so. Thank you, Lord.
Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to discover his heart. To discover his heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up.
Join the ranks of the 10 percent who give God a standing ovation. “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)
You don’t have to name a child after God, but then again, you could. Or you could draft a letter listing his blessings or write a song in his honor. You could sponsor an orphan, buy an appliance for a needy family, or adopt a child just because God adopted you. The surest path out of a slump is marked by the road sign, “Thank you.”
But what of the disastrous days? The nights we can’t sleep and the hours we can’t rest? Grateful then? Jesus was. “On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)
Not often do you see the words betrayed and thanks in the same sentence, much less in the same heart. Jesus and the disciples were in the Upper Room. Sly Judas sat in the corner. Impetuous Peter sat at the table. One would soon betray Jesus; the other would soon curse him. Jesus knew this, yet on the night he was betrayed, he gave thanks. In the midst of the darkest night of the human soul, Jesus found a way to give thanks. Anyone can thank God for the light. Jesus teaches us to thank God for the night.
He taught eight-year-old Daniel to do so. My friend Rob cried freely as he told the story about his young son’s challenging life. Daniel was born with a double cleft palate, dramatically disfiguring his face. He had surgery, but the evidence remains, so people constantly notice the difference and occasionally make remarks.
Daniel, however, is unfazed. He just tells people that God made him this way so what’s the big deal? He was named student of the week at school and was asked to bring something to show his classmates for show-and-tell. Daniel told his mom he wanted to take the pictures that showed his face prior to the surgery. His mom was concerned. “Won’t that make you feel a little funny?” she asked.
But Daniel insisted. “Oh no, I want everybody to see what God did for me!”
Try Daniel’s defiant joy and see what happens. God has handed you a cup of blessings. Sweeten it with a heaping spoonful of gratitude.
“Let me introduce you to my sons,” Joseph would tell people. “Come here, God Made Me Forget and God Made Me Fruitful. Where did I get those names? Well, have a seat, and let me tell you what God did for me.”