THE FOUR YEAR COMPLAINTEvery four years the American public must endure the doomsday rhetoric of election year politics. The party that is out of power laments the deplore conditions of our national economy, health care and security. With righteous indignation, they lay the blame for these conditions at the doorstep of their opposition. They enumerate a lengthy list of the failures and mistakes of the current leadership, hoping to convince the voting public to cast the ballot for a change in leadership. Both parties are guilty of such condemning hypocrisy. The Democrats may be beating the drum of warning in 2004 but it is the same drum used by the Republicans four years ago.1
Ironically, the sky-is-falling strategy is very effective even in a land of plenty. The American public enjoys the world's most prosperous economy, the best health care, the greatest variety and selection of consumer goods and services, and the widest array of constitutional freedom of any country in the world. Yet, when a politician tells us that our lives are in the dump and getting worse, we believe them. We listen to the pessimist and view the optimist with skepticism.2 George Will refers to this national disease as "social hypochondria."3
This paradox is reflected in surveys on our level of satisfaction. In a recent poll, over 52% of the respondents said that the US is worse now than when their parents were growing up. In another survey, 66% of the respondents believed that the life of the average person was getting worse. Only 15% of the responding public believes that social conditions are improving.4 In a recently published book entitled the Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook offer five reasons why such a large gap exists between the improving social conditions of our nation and our perceived negative outlook.
According to Easterbrook, we are plagued with a "choice anxiety." In the past, people had limited income, limited goods and services and limited choices. We have so many that we never know if we are choosing the right product. He also believes that we are afflicted with an "abundance denial" that prevents us from acknowledging our prosperity, so that no matter how many toys fill our garage, or how many vacation we take, or how often attend a Pistons or Red Wings game, we just never consider ourselves prosperous. We also suffer from a "collapse anxiety." This is the pervasive fear that the economy will crash. We struggle to enjoy what we have when we fear that it could be lost tomorrow. Finally, Easterbrook argues that "the revolution of satisfied expectations" fosters unhappiness. Over the last century, each generation has expected to have more than the preceding generation. However, we have reached the point at which most people have what they need. They do not have anything else to look forward to.5
Easterbrook suggests several very practical solutions to this predicament, some of which have little connection with the problem, such as increasing the minimum wage and a national health plan. However, he also provides presents some very practical advice. The writer argues that the only way to make life more fulfilling is to practice optimism, gratitude and forgiveness. While Jesus would readily affirm all three, he gives particular attention to gratitude.
WHAT'S THE MESSAGE
The story takes place during Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. Luke has already told us that he has resolutely turned his face toward the nation's capital and nothing will detour him from his appointed destiny (9:51). He is a man on a mission. He had left his home territory of Galilee and was traveling along the border of Samaria. Both the Jews in Galilee and the Jews in Jerusalem had little respect for the Samaritans. This bigotry toward one another had political and religious roots.
Galilee lay to the north of Jerusalem with Samaria wedge between the two A direct route would take the traveler from Galilee through the land of the Samaritans to Jerusalem but the religious Jew would never take such a route. Their animosity toward the Samaritans was strong. They would prefer to travel many miles out of their way to avoid contact with them.
As Jesus approached the city, they kept their distance from the group of people who were following Jesus. Leprosy was a dreaded skin disease in the ancient world. For sanitary purposes, the Levitical law required lepers to be ostracized from their families, their homes, their friends, and their livelihood. Lepers were not to have any contact with the general population. Deprived of all social contact and vocational options, they had to rely begging and the mercy of the community. Their cries for mercy could be understood as requests for financial assistance or supernatural. Jesus had already healed other lepers during his ministry. Perhaps this group had heard about it through the grapevine. They may have even known the man who was healed.
With the stage and characters in place, the reader is set for a healing story and Luke does not disappointment. Jesus gives his pronouncement of healing when he instructs the lepers to go show themselves to the priest. Only the religious leaders held the power to declare lepers clean. If they passed the visual inspection by the priest, they were welcomed back into the community. Jesus would not dare declare the men clean on his own because they would not be accepted until the priest confirmed the miracle. However, something happened along the way to the local synagogue.
One of the lepers notices that he has been made well and is so happy that he returns to thank Jesus. Jesus wants everyone to know what this man has done. The crowd and the original audience is shocked. Who would have thought that a Samaritan would do the right thing? The story now changes from a miracle story to a lesson in faith and the importance of gratitude.
SATISFIED WITH LIFE
Gratitude is a rare quality in our culture. Grateful people are not heard at the Customer Service desk. Complainers get more attention. Anger is the squeak that demands to be oiled. Political candidates do not get elected by expressing their gratitude for their opponents but gratitude is sign of remarkable maturity. Dr. Lewis Smedes, a professor of social ethics and the author of many acclaimed books, once said: "Gratitude is at the very heart of contentment. My sense of satisfaction in life springs from the feeling of gratitude. I have never met a truly thankful, appreciative person who is not happy. So close are gratitude and contentment that I would equate them."6 One cannot be grateful without being content. Discontent is driven by unmet needs, by dissatisfaction, by unrest. It is a gnawing sensation of unfulfillment. In contrast, gratefulness enjoys what one and does not dwell on the things that one does not have.
Grateful requires a keen awareness to the movement of God in our lives. It requires us to notice not only the big "miracles" but also the little ones that we can so easily take for granted. We may not know what happened to the 9 lepers who did not return to thank Jesus but we do not that only one leper heard the words of affirmation, "Go your faith has made you well."
THE COMPLICATED DAY
Merging onto the busy freeway, Lisa headed for the convention center. She was suppose to work an exhibitors booth that day at a Christian educators convention. She could hear the gentle sounds of her new baby daughter from the backseat. She also caught the familiar scent of a rather pungent odor. "Just my luck," muttered this mother of four. Traffic was heavy and she did not have time to pull off the freeway for a diaper change. Her little darling would have to endure her discomfort.
Once they arrived at the convention center, Lisa plopped Charli into the stroller, grabbed the diaper bag and raced 9,000 convention goers to the exhibit hall entrance. Weaving through traffic she was forced to make some rather daring maneuvers with the stroller. She hoped that the Spirit and not the aroma were helping to move people out of her way.
Upon arriving at the booth, she began the decontamination process. People were streaming into the hall and strolling by her booth as she frantically juggled baby, wet wipes and diapers. Lisa tried desperately to flash her best, "I've got everything under control smile" but she could feel the strain in her checks.
With the completion of the project, she cramped all the stuff back into the diaper bag, hurried sorted papers and brochures, tried to look organized, and greet the potential customers. However, a tiny cry beckoned her to put aside her plans because the time had arrived for morning brunch. She grumbled to herself, "What possessed me to think I could do this alone? Could this day get any more complicated?"7
Every working mother knows the tension of balancing the responsibilities of job and family. Some days, nothing works out. Everything that can go wrong does. Under such stress gripping is easy.
But as the day passed, something unexpected happened. A steady stream of moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas strolled by the booth, stopping one by one to stare at the little angel that Lisa held in her arms. Clad in a pink dress, her big brown eyes peeking out from beneath a crocheted bonnet, Charli commanded the attention of all who passed.
The knowing gleam in their eyes seemed to say, "It just doesn't get any better than that." With each comment of, "Enjoy this time, honey. It goes so fast," Lisa held Charli a little closer. She examined each little dimple of her tiny fingers more carefully. She became so enchanted by this cooing miracle sitting on her lap that she forgot that she was there for any other purpose than to be filled with the joy of her baby's presence. "I felt God's soothing touch calm the edginess that had crept into my soul. "Isn't she amazing?" he seemed to whisper. A thousand prayers of thanksgiving welled up in my heart, and I forgot all about my frazzled nerves."8
Gratitude was not a natural response to the problems that Lisa had to work through. She may have thought of a hundred other options to make her life easier. Some may not have included that bundle of joy that sat in her lap but instead of complaining; instead of lamenting over what she did not have, she discovered a reason to be grateful.
LEARNING TO BE GRATEFUL
Gratefulness is not a natural response. Sin has scared our hearts and created a gap of discontent and unrest. We dwell on what we do not have and become easily manipulated by political candidates and slick advertising. Lisa would write
To cultivate a heart of thankfulness requires intentional effort and new eyes to see all that God has done for us. Yes, we have piles of laundry, but thank God we have clothes to keep us warm. Yes, we spend our days shuttling kids from soccer to swimming lessons, but thank God they are able to run and play.
The reward for this effort is a life in which small pleasures are savored, people we love are treasured, and nothing is taken for granted. When we choose to see the blessings in our lives each day, our grumbling is transformed into gratitude.
1 "The politics of Gratitude," Stephen L. Carter, 8 March 2004, ChristianityToday, March 2004, Vol. 48, No. 3, Page 74, [online] available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/003/26.74.html accessed 10 October 9, 2004.
3"Afflicted by comfort," George Will, 11 January 2004, [online] available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/georgewill/gw20040111.shtml accessed October 9, 2004.
4 "Humane Studies Review - Featured Review" Chris Coyne, [online] available from http://www.theihs.org/libertyguide/article.php/734.html accessed 9 October 2004
6 Neil Clark Warren, "Make Yourself Irresistible" February 2003 [online] available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/singles/eharmony/03feb-2.html, accessed 6 October 2004.
7 "Grumbling to Gratitude," Lisa Johnson and Elisha Morgan, Fall 2002, Christian Parenting Today, [on-line] available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/cpt/2002/004/15.64.html accessed 09 October 2004.
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