Gratitude in the Wilderness
August 18, 2019
When I turned forty I made a decision. I decided that I wanted to be happy. I had thought up to that point that there were other more important things. I thought being successful was important; but over the years I learned that really doesn’t matter so much and success is really relative; what I think is success others don’t see it. So, I gave up on that. I decided I wanted to be the best pastor I could be. Nice ambition; not really all that satisfying. And then finally, about the time I was turning forty, I realized that what I most wanted was just to be happy. We all want that, right?
Well, to learn how to do this, I began to watch the happy people in my life. I paid attention to what attributes they shared and even though the happy people were a diverse population there was one thing that they all had in common. Happy people are grateful people.
Now, for some folks, I see that this gratitude attitude just comes naturally. Me, I had to learn to work at it. I even needed a formula for how to be grateful that would lead me to be happy and that’s the formula I want to share with you at our time together. Because after several years, I’m happy to report, that gratitude does make you happier. It works. So, this morning, as we continue to look at the tools need to survive the wilderness, I would like to share with you my formula for good living, for happiness, for living in gratitude.
I call it the ABC’s because well, that’s what they are.
A is Acknowledge goodness. We live in a society that likes to tell us about the bad. I once interviewed for the newsroom at a local television station and I learned in that meeting that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Bad news captures our attention, boosts the ratings. For whatever reason, we like bad news. But if you want to live in gratitude, if you want to be joyful, acknowledge goodness. Because even if it’s not the leading story on the news, goodness abounds. Dr. Amen, a psychiatrist who’s become quite popular lately with his healthy brain studies, tells us that we will be happier if we concentrate more on the good of those we are in relationship than the not so good. When you get angry at a family member, try to stop and think about what you love about that person, what it is that makes you stay in relationship with them. Remember the good that they have brought into your life. You can do this with everything, your job, your community, your family, your neighbors. Hold the goodness of others before you instead of focusing on what has made you mad.
Acknowledge goodness within yourself. It’s a good thing to name our mistakes and ask for forgiveness from those we have harmed. That is an honorable thing; but to hold onto to them; it doesn’t do any good. Claim what you’ve done wrong; but then move on. Acknowledge goodness in yourself. Acknowledge goodness in the world. Give more attention to what is right than to what is wrong. You can do that. You can choose what report you listen to. You can choose what to stay focused on. If you want to live in joy, in gratitude, acknowledge goodness.
The B is for Be Mindful. Be mindful. My favorite bumper sticker is be here now, which seems so silly because where else can you be except here now…but the truth is we can be lots of places. You ever had a conversation with someone who was not listening?? Of course you have. It’s frustrating. Be here. Be present with the people you love. Be in the moment. I have decided not to multi task because it’s making me stupid. I’d rather do one thing and do it well than try to do too many things. Being present in the moment makes you aware of the beauty all around you. It causes you to stop and see the world, see the goodness, see the love. But if you run around texting and emailing and cell phoning you are never really present in a conversation. Be mindful. Be present.
Be mindful that you don’t know everything. When you encounter someone surly or ugly, stop, take a breath, and understand that you don’t know what they’ve been through. You don’t know the message they just got, the trouble they’re having. Be mindful that they may be having the worst day of their lives and really, doesn’t everyone deserve a little grace to have a bad day? Be mindful that you don’t know everything.
One of my favorite stories is about a family going to a ballgame. There’s a fender bender in the parking lot and the driver, the father, thinks everything’s fine since nothing looks broken. However, when they leave for the evening, after the game, the man turns on his lights and notices that the lights are stuck on bright. He can’t do anything about it. As he came towards other cars, they’d flick their lights on and off but he couldn’t change what had happened. As he struggled with the situation, wishing he could tell the other drivers what had happened, he realized that emotionally there are folks who cannot turn their lights off bright and he knew that they might actually deserve some grace; that perhaps just like him, they just couldn’t turn their lights down.
Be mindful that you don’t know everything.
And finally, C is for count your blessings. The old hymn goes, count your many blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what God has done. Count the love in your life. Count the gifts you have. Count the meals you can enjoy, the transportation to which you have access, the way you got out of bed, the fact that you can dress yourself, live in a house with running water. If you stop and think about it….you’ll have plenty to count. You count what is going right in your life and you count what is not going wrong.
The best boss I ever had was at Hospice in Alamance County in North Carolina. His name is Peter Barcus and he was always cheerful and pleasant. One Monday I walked to the coffee maker, hoping not to see anyone as I wasn’t quite awake. I walked by Peter’s office and just gave him a nod when he asks, “Hi Lynne, how are you?” “Fine, Peter. You?” And with that cheerful morning presence he answers, “I’m great!”
Okay, I think. I’ll bite. “Why are you great?”
“Because I don’t have a toothache.”
I’m a little lost with this statement so I ask another question. “Did you have a toothache recently?”
“No!” He shouts. “And isn’t it great?”
And all I can think is whatever he’s taking, I want some of that!
When you don’t have a toothache, you should be grateful. When you drive by the funeral home and don’t have to stop, be grateful. When you see the hospital sign and don’t have to slow down, be grateful. Count the blessings of the things that are not hurting you, bothering you, that you are not where you once were. Count your blessings!
Years after learning this lesson and what I want from life hasn’t changed. I want to live my life in joy. I want to be happy and I now know that being grateful gets me to that goal. Acknowledge goodness, be mindful, and count your blessings.