A Message from the Pastor

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Greg Kintzi

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THE WAY OF GRATEFULNESS

Giving Thanks in a Pandemic

“He who is grateful is never truly poor,
And he who isn’t (grateful) is never truly rich.”
-Anonymous

            Some of you may remember me telling the story of three women who died and all three reach heaven at the same time. There they met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. He tells them he has some important business to attend to and ask them to wait outside. After some time has passed he returns and calls the first woman into his office. He apologizes for the delay and making her wait. “Oh, I don’t mind at all, “the woman says, “I’m so thrilled just to be here in heaven.”

            St. Peter is delighted by her attitude, “Well, then, if you can just answer one question for me, we can finish processing your transfer papers. Now tell me, how do you spell ‘grace’?”

            The woman spells the word for him and is immediately admitted into the celestial city where there is an amazing celebration happening.

            St. Peter calls in the next woman and also apologizes to her for making her wait so long.

            “No problem. It will be worth it, I’m sure,” she answers. “I am willing to wait 1,000 years if necessary in order to see God face to face.”

            St. Peter is very pleased. He insists, though, on asking her one more question for the records. “Tell me, dear lady, how do you spell ‘grace’?”

            The woman spells it perfectly and is subsequently welcomed into Paradise.

            Last, but not least, St. Peter calls in the third woman. He also apologizes to her, but she refuses to accept his apology. “It was quite rude, “she says angrily. “All my life on earth I had to wait in lines, – wait at the check-out counter; wait at the bus stop; wait for the children to get home from school; wait for my coffee break! And now you expect me to wait to get into heaven? Well, I just won’t stand for it!”   St. Peter says, “I’m so sorry. If you will just answer one more question for our records, then you can go in. Tell me, how do you spell ‘Czechoslovakia?”

            Thanksgiving in the U.S. is usually traced to 1621 when a Pilgrim leader, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of feasting to commemorate the first harvest after a long year of suffering. What you may not know is that, as the colonies grew more prosperous, the people forget all about Thanksgiving and the meaning it held for their ancestors. For generations Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically, if at all, with no set date.

            Then in 1822, Sarah Hale, a young widow from New Hampshire, decided to revive this important celebration. Sarah, a mother of five children and an editor of a woman’s magazine, began a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents to get Thanksgiving officially recognized as a national holiday. Three Presidents turned her down. Her obsession became a reality, however. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as an annual celebration of Thanksgiving.

            It’s interesting that it should have been Lincoln that responded to Sarah’s request. His own life was at a very low ebb at the time. The country was literally falling apart and Lincoln’s political future looked bleak. “Many of the members of his own cabinet openly despised him, and joked about him in public. His wife had been investigated as a possible traitor – a process which Lincoln personally found to be bitterly wounding. In the face of such personal and national circumstances, Lincoln’s call for a day of prayer would have made sense – but Thanksgiving? At a time like that? What must he have been thinking? Like the biblical prophets of old, no doubt. No wonder historians count Lincoln as one of our truly great presidents.

            The interesting thing about expressing our appreciation to God and to others when things are going poorly is that it reframes and resets the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. No longer is the world around us a place of doom and gloom, but the arena in which we encounter God’s love and blessing in ways we never thought were possible. If we can be grateful for the soul-lessons inherent in the difficulties that befall us, then our souls will be able to grow and mature. Otherwise, we stay stuck in self pity, because we fail to use the hardships that dog us to become more loving, more patient, more present, more kind.

            A.J. Cronin once told of a doctor he knew who prescribed in certain cases of neuroses what he called his “thank-you cure.” When a patient came to him discouraged, pessimistic, and full of his own woes, but without any symptoms of a serious ailment, he would give advice: “For six weeks I want you to say ‘Thank you’ whenever anyone does you a favor, and to show you mean it emphasize the words with a smile.”

            “But no one ever does me a favor, doctor,” the patient might complain.

            Whereupon, borrowing   from scripture, the wise old doctor would reply: “Seek and you will find.”

            Six weeks later, more often than not, the patient would return with quite a new outlook, freed of a sense of grievance against life, and convinced that people had suddenly become more kind and friendly.

            Science is confirming what sensitive souls like A.J. Cronin have known for a long time – the many benefits of an attitude of gratitude.

            Several years ago, two researchers at the University of California, Davis, conducted a study on the role of gratitude in a person’s sense of well-being. They asked several hundred people to participate in their study. One group kept a journal, noting all of the events that happened each day. Another group noted only the unpleasant experiences of each day. A third group kept a journal of those things that occurred each day for which they were grateful.

            What do you expect that study showed?

            The group that took the time to record the things they were grateful for each day showed “higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy” and lower levels of depression and stress. They also felt more loved and were more inclined toward acts of kindness.

            If you know a positive and loving person, you already know that it’s true. When you express feelings of gratitude whether toward another person or toward God, it has a positive effect on your own spirit.

            Richard Carlson, in his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, puts it this way: “This may seem like an awfully simple suggestion, but it really works. If you wake up in the morning with gratitude on your mind and you work to keep it, it’s pretty difficult to get off track and lose a sense of what matters. I learned a long time ago, that when a day begins, it’s easy for me to slip into various forms of worry and negative thinking. There can be so much to do and to remember for the day, that without even realizing it, my mind fills up with worry, then frustration, even resentment. But if I can instead begin the day by focusing on what is good in my life, if I can start with a person – someone who did something for me – even something small, perhaps the person who allowed me to merge into traffic, or who held the door open or gave me change at the market because I was short – inevitably as I think of one person to feel gratitude for, the image of another person pops into my head; then another, then another. When I do this, then pretty soon, I’m thinking of other things to be grateful for – my health, my children, my spouse, my home, the natural world, my work, and on and on. Then it becomes difficult, in fact almost impossible, to get caught up in unimportant things.”

            There are so many things in life over which we have very little control – who our parents are; where we were born; natural disasters; the stock market; random or even premediated acts of violence; what the weather will be like on any given day. But we do have control over our attitude, and when it is informed by gratitude our life becomes a blessing to those around us.

            So what attitude are you carrying around in your heart today? If it’s not gratitude, perhaps it’s time for a heart make-over.

Your Fellow Pilgrim on the Journey,
Pastor Greg Kintzi

 
 
  November 2020  
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