Yesterday, I had the privilege to attend the annual Toronto Prayer Breakfast where hundreds of church leaders get together each year to pray and fellowship with one another.
The speaker for the event this year was Gary Thomas, author of the NYT Bestselling book Sacred Marriage. His talk was simple and yet so practical. Essentially, the nutshell of his message was that because “familiarity breeds contempt,” we tend to lose our sense of gratefulness for the blessings we continually have all around us. And often, it is not until we have lost something that we then realize how thankful we were for that being a part of our lives.
He told the story of how a gentleman came up to him after a conference in desperate need of a liver transplant. Without it, he faced the strong possibility of death. In that moment, Thomas realized that were this man to receive a new liver, he would doubtlessly be praising God for this new upgrade for days on end. Yet, Thomas realized he had never thanked God for his liver. In fact he was not certain he knew where his was!
This got me to thinking. How grateful am I? Sadly, I believe not nearly as much as I should be. Did I thank God that I could see this morning? No. Did I thank God that I could have walk and communicate with others? No. And I certainly cannot remember the last time I ever thanked God for my liver! Just think about these incredible blessings my mind turns into complaints.
Complaint: “There are so many potholes on the roads and city drivers can be obnoxious.”
Reality Check: “I have a car.”
Complaint: “Why is my iPhone running so slow today?”
Reality Check: “15 years ago the only option was Nokia brick phones!”
Complaint: “I wish we had more space in our apartment and housing prices are so high!”
Reality Check: “We have far more than we need. We have running water, a stove, a warm place to stay, and an excellent landlord.”
Complaint: “Why do I have to sit in another meeting?”
Reality Check: “God has blessed me with so many great people in my life.”
One of the stories Thomas shared that really caused me to think was of a group of army widows who were being interviewed on one of the major TV networks. The interviewer asked the women what was the hardest thing they often heard from other women who were married. One widow immediately spoke up and said she could not stand it when wives complained about their husbands. She then went on to say how she would give anything to walk into her bathroom again and see the toilet seat still up. Those areas of complaint that she once had suddenly vanished when she was living her life without the one she loved.
For the record, the toilet seat stays down in our home! And this illustration could easily be reversed. I cannot tell you how many times I hear men complaining about their wives. In fact, it is almost seen as a way to find common ground. Over the years I have come to realize that my complaining can be incredibly insulting to those around me who only wish they could have what I have. I cannot tell you how many times I complained about all the paper work Janan and I had to go through coming into Toronto. Yet, there are thousands of immigrants in this city who would give anything to have the simple paper of citizenship I have tucked away at home, and rarely ever think about.
So if you are struggling to be grateful this week, just think about some of the things you are complaining about and ask where your life would be without them. Instead of grumbling when the car breaks down, be thankful that you have one. Instead of allowing that flaw in your significant other to grate on your nerves, turn it into a praise and be thankful you still have them.
Gratefulness is truly about perspective. Few people understood what it meant to be grateful more than the great writer Victor Frankl, who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Stripped of his possessions, his cloths, and even his loved ones, Frankl observed, “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Wow, I think this week…scratch that…this lifetime I’m going to choose gratitude.