THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
Being thankful is one of the most subversive gestures we can make in life. But how do we get to this point in the first place?
A short time ago, the public polling body MORI claimed to have uncovered a new social stereotype in Britain: grumpy middle aged men. They called them the ‘new Meldrews’ (after Richard Wilson’s character in the TV series One Foot in the Grave). You may think such people are two a penny and hardly worth a press release but this species of neo-Meldrew is much younger than their patron. The 35-54 year age group has become soured by long working hours, crumbling infrastructures, disappearing pensions and a sense that the world is no longer made in their image. Yet they are merely figureheads for a new spirit of grumpiness which has afflicted this country. Our public life has become coarser and less forgiving. When acts of kindness are routinely taken for granted, people are less likely to show generosity and we enter a vicious circle of unfriendliness.
The tale of the healing of ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-19) speaks powerfully to us about the risk of not counting our blessings. Suffering from a highly contagious skin disease, these men were ostracised, trapped in poverty and faced a short life-span. Their healing by Jesus transformed their futures instantly. It is hard to believe that nine out of ten could not bring themselves to say thank you when it meant so much to the, The Samaritan who returned to give thanks established a relationship with Jesus which the others thought superfluous now they were better. It is a telling story for a hardened culture like ours which has experienced so many material blessings.
I know of Christian people who have made conscious choices to be more thankful for their lives and who have experienced notable changes to their mood as a result. The surest antidote to the creeping dissatisfaction of life is to express ourselves in worship of a God who loves us with an everlasting love.
It is not always comfortable to say how glad we are in public because the culture is so cynical that you run the risk of being branded naïve and conformist. Many of us live and work in groups that have a dark collective mood that does not tolerate cheerfulness. Witnessing to the goodness of God is a challenging task where it upsets the status quo.
The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about this priority. When he uttered his words: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice! he was languishing in a grotty and arbitrarily violent Roman jail; enduring a life of constant harassment; under threat of death and without any material stability. Yet the relationship he had with Christ transcended this misery so much that he was able to boast about it: I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel. This is illustrative of a deep truth in life: that some people can be joyfully happy in adversity while others are miserable in their wealth.
So how might we become more thankful?
Human beings need to create small rituals to give depth and meaning to the business of life. Beginning and ending the day with gratitude to God is a start. Looking ahead to the day and asking God that we will find him in its unfolding and then looking back at the end of the day to search for things to be grateful for can become a virtuous habit. Stopping in the middle of the day to reflect can help to break up the crusty veneer of cynicism which quickly develops as a day progresses in the unforgiving terrain of urban life.
There is, however, a spurious kind of attitude we can encounter in one another that is unhelpful, where an insincere bonhomie undermines rather than encourages. We should be sympathetic to the needs of people who are genuinely sad and bereft. Words cannot reach people when they are depressed. An unspoken physical presence is sometimes all we can offer if we are not to risk sounding like Tigger at a funeral wake. Joy is caught rather than taught and Christian gratitude is infused with humility, self-awareness and humour in an attractive blend.
There may be something specific about the British attachment to the Victor Meldrew way of life, a kind of cultural pessimism born of temperament and outlook, but there are times when Christians are asked by God to live in ways which gently challenge the prevailing mood. Infecting with joy the British groove of grumpiness is surely one of them.
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