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.
In the book of Genesis, we read that Joseph took more than a spoonful. He had more than enough cause to be ungrateful. You likely remember his story. Tossed in a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongfully imprisoned, estranged from his family. If anyone had reason to let anger fester, it was Joseph. Yet try as we might to find tinges of bitterness in his story, 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.’” (Gen. 41:50–52 nkjv)
Child naming is no small responsibility. Most parents go to great effort to select the perfect name for their child. 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.”
“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 nlt).
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. When Jesus 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. The mass of misery became a leaping, jumping, celebrating chorus of health.
Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff.
Jesus watched them dance their way over the horizon. And he waited for their return. And he waited. And he waited. 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’ 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?” (v. 15–18 nlt)
Even Jesus was astonished. You’d think that neither fire nor hail could have kept them from falling at Jesus’ 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.
Some were too cautious to be thankful. They guarded against joy, kept their hopes down. Waited for the other shoe to drop. What’s too good to be true usually is.
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.
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 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 she would tell me I was going to have to take a flight the next morning.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Shouldn’t we be grateful? 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 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.
But what of the disastrous days? The nights we can’t sleep and the hours we can’t rest? What of the painful and pain-filled days when the economy crashes, your friend forgets or your parent leaves? 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 Cor. 11:23–24 nlt).
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.
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.
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.”