When I pulled off the highway into the neighborhood, I knew that I was driving in a place very foreign to me – and possibly unfriendly. Very old, rundown three-flats lined the streets. I noticed that the color of the skin of the few people driving cars or walking on the streets differed from mine.
My friend, Ken (not his real name), led me into the basement through the outside door. I observed a toilet half exposed behind a blanket hanging as a curtain. The odor implied that the curtain partitioned off a bathroom. Ken led me through another hanging blanket into a dimly lit, narrow room. One wall was brick and the wall ten feet across the room consisted of more blankets.
The large television demanded first notice. A small space heater rested on a coffee table between the couch and TV. A toaster sat on a table. Ken opened a small dorm-room style refrigerator for a jug of water. It was empty otherwise.
Ken and his wife welcomed me into their living quarters warmly. I sat on a chair like the kitchen table chairs in the ’50’s, metal with a plastic covered seat. They wanted me to meet a friend. A young white woman emerged through a swinging door at the end of the room, apparently the bedroom. She said she was working on pictures for the couple.
Ken was recently laid off from a construction job temporarily. Good thing. His bronchitis seemed incapacitating. The landlord lets Ken rent the “apartment” for half of the $1,600 fee because he cleans the building grounds. He is behind on the rent. His wife’s favorite uncle died just a few months ago. Her brother died last week during a drug arrest. Reports differ about the cause. They usually do.
But then Ken told me the worst news. Doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor and gave him a 40 percent chance of survival – if he has the surgery and follow-up treatments. Did I mention that he has no money, or family to help?
You were probably expecting an uplifting Thanksgiving blog. Sorry. God led me out of my suburban bubble last week to see another part of the world, the one I conveniently insulate myself from, even though I can drive there in less than 30 minutes. It seemed worth sharing with you.
God shapes a grateful heart in many ways. Our consumer culture incessantly tells us that we are one purchase away from happiness. Marketers do not nurture contentment, much less gratitude. Sometimes comparisons jolt us out of a fabricated existence. Seeing what I have in comparison to what many others lack humbles me. It exposes how liberally I spend and how miserly I give.
Paul instructed the Colossian believers to walk in Christ the same way that they had received Him (2:6). This means they should live their lives with the same trust in Christ that they exercised when they first trusted him for salvation. Living with this kind of faith is a learned habit, one that takes a lifetime.
He goes on to describe what this looks like, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught” (2:7). In other words, the Christian life is an endless learning process – learning how to live in a relationship with Jesus Christ the Lord. A life built around this relationship enjoys great stability.
Paul adds another characteristic of this life, “abounding in thanksgiving.” When something abounds, there is lots of it. Existing in great quantity. More than enough. A bank account that abounds has more money than is demanded by need or want.
I would not say, to my shame, that my life abounds with thanksgiving. Yet, my life abounds with resources and good things. I have more than a couch, a television and a toaster. I have not one, but two, refrigerators well-stocked. All of my walls are solid. I enjoy exceptional health. I have seven great children, five grandchildren and a beautiful wife.
So where is the abounding thanksgiving? Focusing on the very few things that I seem to lack obstructs my view of what I already have. Isn’t that the way it goes? A tiny speck in one eye blurs the entire vision. A tiny wart on the sole of one foot throws the entire body out of alignment. The only difference: I can choose where to focus – the one thing lacking or the abundance.
Sometimes comparisons pulverize the obstruction. They help us refocus. My trip to Ken’s apartment last week did that for me.
Stan, Thank you for this reminder. I have found that when I start thinking, “Man, I’ve got it hard,” I don’t have to look very far before I see someone who has it much harder than I.
My favorite movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, is featured in my latest post, Don’t Fall Alone.