A recent event and two recent conversations make me think God’s trying to tell me something.
The event came last week, when my wife’s step-grandmother died. It was a blessing, healing her of cancer that had progressed beyond the point of treatment. We traveled to Ft. Smith, Ark., to gather with that side of Ann’s family and celebrate her step-grandmother’s life. Near the end of the visit, we received a great gift – her car. It’s not exactly new, a 2002 Honda Civic; but it’s in great shape with very low mileage. Gifts like this have fallen into our laps a few times before, and they always make me stop short. They are moments when gratitude washes over you, when you get a window into just how richly you’re blessed and how often you miss it. We’re trying to discern now what to do with three cars; but with two kids nearing driving age, we may well keep them all and make one a gift for their use.
Then this week, I had a conversation with a parishioner about prayer. She is very wise in many ways, but one thing she said particularly stuck with me. She was talking about a truly difficult time, when she wasn’t sure how to pray or what to pray for. What carried her through was the intentional practice of thanksgiving. When she couldn’t pray anything else, she could take note of all that God had given her – children, work, relationships, plenty to eat, a lovely home, and so on. It was a bridge toward a place of deeper healing because it kept her orientation Godward in a time when the temptation was great to turn away.
And yesterday I had a conversation with another parishioner, this time about illness and recovery. He had endured heart surgery to correct problems that would have killed him, and he’s still dealing with the rigors of recovery and rehab. But what he was taking away from the experience was deep gratitude – not just for the gift of renewed health (which is significant enough) but for the gift of relationships with those who had supported him through the process, everyone from his spouse and children, to friends who showed up, to physicians and caregivers who were God’s agents of physical healing. For him, heart disease was an opportunity to see the blessing of relationship and say thank you.
I struggle with lots of things, but one of the more consistent wrestling matches God and I have is about orienting me toward gratitude. And when I’m feeling especially hard-pressed (or, perhaps, self-pitying), God seems to come through with examples of the contrast reality that the life of the kingdom is all about. The lines between our perception of burden and God’s reality of blessing can be terribly thin. But the choice is ours as to how we’ll chalk things up. Do we choose to see burden or blessing? The answer will tell us whether our primary residence is the kingdom of anxiety or the kingdom of heaven.