Over the past several weeks I have been asking friends and colleagues, “For what are you grateful?”
One friend thought a moment and said, “I am grateful for the paperweight on my desk. I have had it for over 30 years. It is an ordinary rock that has red and yellow paint splattered on it. It is not worth much, but I wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money in the world. My son was 5 years old when he made it for me in a Sunday School class. It is a symbol of his love.
Another friend said, “I love the homemade greeting card I got from my daughter. On the front of the card, she drew a picture of the earth and wrote the words, “To the World’s Most Sweetest Mom.” Inside the card she wrote, “Happy Birthday,” then scratched through it and wrote, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She signed the card, “Love, Sarah (6 years old)” When she gave me the card, she pointed out her mistake inside and said, “Even though I made a mistake, you are the same Mom.”
Other friends and colleagues named things like family, friends, work, relationships. One person even said, “I’m grateful for my district superintendent.”
Well, how cool is that?
The Practice of Gratitude
As I have listened, I have learned three things about you:
- You are people of gratitude.
- You are most grateful for your relationships
- Your gifts are valuable because of the giver of those gifts.
I think that is genuine gratitude. Focusing upon the giver of the gift rather than on the gift itself. To paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “You can gain the whole world and all the gifts in it, but without gratitude, you will miss the giver and lose your soul.” Celebrating the giver rather than the gift is the point. When you make that breakthrough, you will never be the same. That kind of gratitude will change your life.
So, let’s put our gratitude into action. I want you to think of someone for whom you are grateful. Someone who has brought love, joy, and gladness into your life. Someone who, because of their generosity, has changed your life. Get that person’s face in our mind and name on your lips.
Two Sides of Gratitude
Now, let me tell you about Bonnie Shepherd. She was having surgery two weeks before Christmas. She said it was a terrible time to be in the hospital, but her husband assured her that he could take care of things at home. But she wrote, “Christmas baking, shopping, and decorating would have to wait.”
She said, “I struggled to open my eyes after sleeping for almost two days following surgery. As I became more alert, I looked around to what seemed like a Christmas floral shop. Red poinsettias and other bouquets crowded the windowsill. A stack of cards waited to be opened. On the stand next to my bed stood a small tree decorated with ornaments my children had made. The shelf over the sink held a dozen red roses from my parents…and a yule log with candles from our neighbor. I was overwhelmed by all the love and attention.”
That day, she watched a heavy snowfall outside the hospital window. She began thinking about her four children. Her husband had told her that friends had brought meals and offered to care for the children. She began to imagine them bundled in their snowsuits building a backyard snowman and skating at the outdoor ice rink. Then, she thought of her son, Adam. He had a physical disability. At age 5 he had just started walking independently. She worried about him on the ice and snow with his thin ankles. She wondered if anyone would take him for a sled ride?
About that time, she heard the nurse’s voice, “More flowers!” The nurse handed her the card from the beautiful centerpiece and then made room for the bouquet among the poinsettias on the windowsill. She took more cards from her pocket and put them on the tray. Before leaving the room, she pulled back the pale green privacy curtain between the two beds.
While Bonnie was reading her get-well cards, she heard, “Yep, I like those flowers.” It was the woman in the bed beside her. She had pushed the curtain aside so she could see better. “Yep, I like those flowers,” she said again.
Bonnie said her roommate was a small 40-something woman with Down’s syndrome. She had short, curly, gray hair and brown eyes. Her hospital gown hung untied around her neck, and when she moved forward it exposed her bareback. Bonnie said she wanted to tie it for her but she was still connected to an IV. The woman stared at the flowers with childlike wonder.
Bonnie spoke to her. “I’m Bonnie. What’s your name?”
“Ginger,” she said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling and pressing her lips together after she spoke. “Doc’s gonna fix my foot. I’m going to have suur-jeree tomorrow.”
Bonnie and Ginger talked until dinnertime. Ginger told her about the group home where she lived and how she wanted to get back for her Christmas party. She never mentioned a family. Every few minutes she reminded Bonnie of her surgery scheduled for the next morning saying, “Doc’s gonna fix my foot.”
Plans and Visitors
That evening, Bonnie had several visitors, including her son Adam. Ginger talked with everyone who entered the room, telling each of them about Bonnie’s pretty flowers. She kept an eye on Adam. Later that evening, when everyone had gone, Ginger repeated over and over how much she liked the flowers and then she said, “I like your Adam too.”
The next morning, while Ginger was in surgery, the nurse helped Bonnie take a walk down the hall. When she returned to her room, she noticed the contrast between the two sides of the room. Ginger’s bed was neatly made, waiting for her return. But she had no cards, no flowers, and no visitors. Bonnie said her side of the room bloomed with flowers, and the stack of get-well cards reminded her of just how much she was loved.
No one sent Ginger flowers or cards. Bonnie began to wonder if it was going to be that way for Adam one day. She quickly decided that she would give Ginger something. Some of her flowers.
She walked to the window and picked up the red-candled centerpiece with holly sprigs. She thought, “This would look great on our Christmas dinner table.” So, she set the piece down. What about the poinsettias? Then she thought about how much the deep-red plants would brighten the entry of her turn-of-the-century home. And of course, she could not give away her Mom and Dad’s roses.
Bonnie said the justifications kept coming: the flowers are beginning to wilt; this friend would be offended; I really could use this when I get home. She said she could not part with anything. So, she climbed back into bed. She calmed her guilt with a decision to call the hospital gift shop when it opened in the morning. She would order Ginger some flowers of her own.
When Ginger returned from surgery, a candy-striper brought her a small green Christmas wreath with a red bow. She hung it on the bare white wall above Ginger’s bed. That evening, Bonnie had more visitors. Even though Ginger was recuperating from surgery, she greeted each visitor and proudly showed them her Christmas wreath.
Home In Time for Christmas
The next morning, after breakfast, the nurse returned to tell Ginger that she was going home. “The van is on its way to pick you up.” Bonnie felt happy for Ginger. She would be home in time for her Christmas party, but Bonnie felt guilty when she remembered that the hospital gift shop would not open for two more hours. She looked around the room at her flowers one more time.
The nurse brought the wheelchair to Ginger’s bedside. Ginger gathered up what few things she had and pulled her coat from the hanger in the closet. Bonnie said, “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, Ginger.” She said her words were sincere but she was feeling bad for not following through on her good intentions.
The Gift of Gratitude
The nurse helped Ginger with her coat and into the wheelchair. Then she removed the small wreath from the nail on the wall and handed it to Ginger. They turned toward the door to leave when Ginger said, “Wait.” Ginger stood up from her wheelchair and hobbled slowly over to Bonnie’s bed. She reached out her hand and gently laid the small wreath in Bonnie’s lap. “Merry Christmas. You are a nice lady.” Then Ginger hugged Bonnie.
Bonnie whispered, “Thank you.” She said she could not say anything more as she watched Ginger hobble back to the chair and out the door. She looked at the small wreath in her hands and thought, “Ginger’s only gift. And she gave it to me.” As she looked toward Ginger’s bed, she saw, again, her side of the room was bare and empty. But as she heard the elevator doors closing, Bonnie said, “I experienced gratitude as I had never experienced it before. I don’t think I will ever be the same.”
Your Next Step
Now, let’s go back to the person I asked you to remember.
- Get that person’s face in your mind and name on your lips
- Give God thanks. You are who you are today because of that person’s presence and influence.
- How will you express your gratitude? make a phone call? send a text? bake cookies? What one thing will you do to express your gratitude?
- Now, do it!
By God’s grace, you express your gratitude by loving as you have been loved. When gratitude overtakes you, you forget to be afraid. You become able to trust and you have time for the greater things in life. Once you experience and express your gratitude, you will never be the same.