Summary: Giving thanks is so much more than being thankful for our current circumstances. Thankfulness is a way of life.
How often do we find ourselves prompting our children to say “thank you?” Whenever they’re offered a treat from a friend or an adult helps them out, we find ourselves asking, “Now, what do you say?” We want our children to be respectful and use good manners, which is why we teach them to say “Thank you,” but I wander if in our attempt to produce properly mannered children, we actually overlook the thankfulness within “Thank you.” Do we bring our children to a place where thankfulness is more than polite, but a recognizable part of their personhood? Are we at a place where thankfulness is a recognizable part of our personhood?
A few years ago, the Peanuts cartoon pictured Charlie Brown bringing out Snoopy’s dinner on Thanksgiving Day. But it was just his usual dog food in a bowl. Snoopy took one look at the dog food and said, "This isn’t fair. The rest of the world is eating turkey with all the trimmings, and all I get is dog food. Because I’m a dog, all I get is dog food." He stood there and stared at his dog food for a moment, and said, "I guess it could be worse. I could be a turkey."
There was very little joy in Snoopy’s thankfulness, for his thankfulness was based on a comparison. His thankfulness was based on the fact that he was better off than the turkey. Therein lies a small lesson in that when we’re down in the dumps and full of complaints because life isn’t fair, we should recognize that there are so many others far worse off than we are. We should stop complaining, but when it comes to our thankfulness, the basis should never be, “Whew, am I thankful that I’m not her,” or “I am so thankful I don’t have to live like that.”
Thankfulness is so much more than a comparison of our own situation to someone else’s. Thankfulness is so much more than having enough food to eat, a nice, warm home to live in, good health, or financial security, because each of those circumstances can be taken from us in an instant. Thankfulness is a state of being and a way of life, and we usually fail to live in a state of thankfulness because we take it for granted.
We’re like the world traveler who has been everywhere and seen everything and takes for granted the blessing and beauty of all that he has seen. We have become so accustomed to our blessings that they fail to excite us and generate thankfulness, for we take them for granted.
Emerson said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. In like manner, we have grown accustomed to our blessings, and quite frankly, we’ve become spoiled.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, Luke shares with us the account of one leper who was not spoiled. There have been many guesses as to why the other nine didn’t return to thank Jesus, but our focus is not on the nine, but on the one who was thankful, for he provides us with some very important lessons on thankfulness.
First of all, being thankful is not only expressed through prayer and public proclamation, but through your attitude in living life. I doubt this leper had a great deal of joy in having leprosy. Lepers were shunned by society. They had to live outside the city. They had to shout “Unclean” whenever they came close to others, so they could be warned to stay away. The first century belief was God gave leprosy to punish those who were sinful and disobedient.
If this was your station in your life, being looked down upon by society, being told that you have leprosy because you’ve found disfavor with God, I wander how much joy and thankfulness would exist in your life? I believe this leper, maintained a spirit of joy and thankfulness, which enabled him to more fully appreciate what Christ had done for him.
We have all experienced “leprosy;” a time where we felt separated and alone, whether it was in the death of a husband, or the loss of a job, or the dissolving of a marriage, or the infliction of emotional pain. We’ve all had circumstances in life where we’ve lived outside the city, where we’ve paused and asked, “God, what did I do to deserve this?” My understanding and my relationship with God tells me that the leper didn’t deserve it, and the same can be said for each of our own bouts with “leprosy.” But do we share something else in common with the leper; do we also share his thankful attitude?