Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. Genesis 2:8
Several years ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a challenge was issued. Let your kids open a Christmas present early and film the reaction. The catch? Give them something they would never, ever actually want to get for Christmas.
Predictably, the children reacted with varying levels of dismay and disappointment. While they were set up in what was intended to be a harmless prank, I’m betting most of us can remember a birthday, Christmas, wedding, anniversary, or other gift which did not live up to expectations. I know I’ve forced a polite smile onto my face more than once in my life and thanked the gift giver for thinking of me. I wasn’t really thankful, I was being the polite person my parents taught me to be.
Being genuinely thankful is not something which comes naturally. It is something we learn. It is something we have to practice. It is something we have to work at. It is something we need others to remind us about. Why? Because we are naturally sinful, greedy people who want what others have. This tendency is nothing new. It’s been getting humanity in trouble since the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve had everything. They lived without worry for what they would eat and no need for clothing because there was no shame. They lived a life where they would walk with God in the garden and talk with him in person on a daily basis. They didn’t know hurt or disappointment. They didn’t know any of the consequences of sin and living in a fallen world the rest of humanity has never been able to escape.
Imagine if you, knowing the hurt and pain you have experienced in this fallen world, were to find yourself suddenly dropped into Eden as it was at the beginning. My guess is that you would find plenty to be thankful for as the aches and pains of your body melted away, as chronic disease ceased to be something you worried about, as you walked and talked with God at the end of each day. My guess is that you would wonder how you got so lucky. My guess is that, at least initially, you would be rather thankful you were given the chance to experience life the way God designed for humanity to live.
It’s easy to get frustrated with Adam and Eve. After all, their choice has affected all of humanity. But we do the same thing. We often fail to realize just how blessed we are and, as a result, make poor decisions which seem to throw the blessings we have out the window, to disregard them, to minimize them in the name of seeking something more.
Nearly 20 years ago I was privileged to take ten youth on a week-long mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. These youth were from a relatively well off, outer ring suburb of Minneapolis and , with the exception of an occasional drive through some of the downtown areas where they might see someone living on the streets, they had not been exposed to true poverty. Arriving in Juarez was a culture shock for all of us. We had to carry our bottled drinking water from a store several blocks away each day. We had make shift showers at best. Critters would scatter when we turned the lights on in our room. At the end of our first full day, we boarded a bus for our evening activity. There was an easy hike on the other side of the city to the top of hill where you could see for miles around.
To get to our hike, we drove through all of Juarez. At one point, there was an expansive garbage dump on one side of the road and, as we drove, the bus got really quiet. We were all realizing there were people, families with young children, living in the dump. They were picking through the garbage for something to eat, to wear, to take shelter under. Before this moment, we had only ever seen such things on TV. It was the first time we came face to face with extreme poverty.
When we returned to our home base for the night, I gathered with the youth from my church to debrief the first couple days of our trip. One girl broke down. She wanted to go home. Coming face to face with how differently these people, who could SEE the United States, lived was utterly overwhelming. She realized just how ungrateful she had been for all she had been given simply because of where she had been born.
How often do we forget to give thanks for all we have been given? How often do we list off all the advantages we have simply because of where we have been born?
On the other end of the spectrum from the prank Jimmy Kimmel asked parents to pull was my friend’s family this past weekend. Their oldest is turning 13 this week and, because of a number of factors, they decided to let him open his birthday present early. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quit out of bed yet but there was no mistaking that the gift was a BIG hit as he shouted, “You’re the best parents EVER!” He had been wanting a specific bike and negotiating with his parents to make it combined Christmas/birthday gift, or to help pay for it, or really just about anything to get the bike. He was sure he wasn’t getting the bike for his birthday. He knew it was out of the normal birthday gift price range.
I was challenged to look around at all I have been given and exclaim to God, “You’re the best God EVER!”
Authentic appreciation is grounded in experience, not rhetoric. Check out this blog which talks about cultivating authentic appreciation and gratitude. How can you begin to cultivate daily, authentic gratitude in your life? https://gratefulness.org/resource/authentic-appreciation/
What was the best gift you have ever received? Why was it such an amazing gift? Have you ever thought of thanking that person again for such a meaningful gift?
Challenge yourself for one week to genuinely thank someone in your life for some reason each day. Notice what makes the task easier or harder on a particular day. How does the practice affect how you approach God in prayer?
Make a list of all the privileges, advantages, and blessings you experience in your life you did nothing to deserve. Consider how your life differs not only from your friends and family, but also from those who live in extreme poverty, in war-torn countries, in places struck with famine and drought, and under the control of cruel dictators. Or perhaps consider how your life is blessed for having grown up in a stable home free from abuse. Even in the midst of hard times and hard days, we can give thanks for these sorts of blessings in our lives.
- Always, if the hard stuff in your life is feeling overwhelming and all consuming, be sure to reach out for help. That help is available in multiple forms for those who are struggling in our society is one of those great blessings of living in the United States.