Learning to be thankful
We were sitting at our dinner table, eating a normal Swiss dinner: bread, jam, cheese, cold cuts, and, for the sake of health, salad. My friend was visiting from another OM field for the week and staying with us for a few nights. We were casually chatting for a while, talking about our families, our cultures, our countries, and our work.
As the conversation evolved, I started sharing some struggles from work, minor things really, and my friend was listening patiently, seemingly understanding what I was talking about.
After a few minutes, I remembered how I was complaining to someone who would probably have much worse things to complain about, as she was coming from a country that doesn’t have the resources mine does.
When I mentioned that, she smiled shyly, and then shared some of the office struggles they've been going through in her country.
My own problems were suddenly put into perspective. There are people that are much worse off than me.
As I reflected about that incident later, I was reminded of my friends in Sri Lanka, people through whom I learned a similar lesson before.
For two weeks, I lived in one of the poorer communities in Sri Lanka, in an area where the Tsunami had destroyed houses and the war dislocated many families. The way they lived was far below the standard of living I grew up in.
I remember one day, after walking under the burning hot sun for two hours, my friends and I started wishing for a cold Coke, an air-conditioned room to cool down, or a cold shower. None of that would be available. While talking, I realized how we were complaining about a situation we were in for two weeks, while others are in it for their lives.
So I started listing all the things I was thankful for: the Sri Lankan family who shared their lives with us, the food they would cook for us three times a day, the well where we could get buckets of water out to clean ourselves, and the fact that they actually thought of us as being a blessing to them.
And I realized something in my heart had changed.
It seems like such a simple lesson, a lesson I have heard and read about so many times before: Be thankful.
But again and again, I catch myself, instead of being thankful for the things I have, missing the things I don’t have. Again and again, it affects my attitude.
And while I sit in my comfortable office, I read about people being ill, talk about financial challenges of others, and post about the refugee situation all over the world. And for that moment, I am reminded of all the goodness in my life.
Then I walk out of my office and meet my friends, and I'm reminded how they can afford to go travel whenever they want. I get into my scratched car, drive home, and sit down to play the piano and realize yet again that it doesn’t have enough keys to play properly because actually, my "piano" is a cheap keyboard that I'm only borrowing.
And I forget that I have a car.
I forget that I have a home.
I forget that I even have a keyboard.
I only see the beautiful houses and gardens around my apartment, compare their high living standard to my a bit lower, yet still very high one, and how those people seem to have it all.
And again, I forget that my country is one of the richest in all the world and that my health is good and that we have the freedom to meet together to talk about Jesus.
I spent this New Year at a mission’s conference with people from all over Europe. I listened to many stories of people, got to know some of their interests and passions, and talked about our ministries. On the first day of this year, I awoke earlier than I had to. As I was lying in my bed, waiting for the alarm to go off, I was thinking of the people I met and the stories they told and the stories that are yet to come.
Then I started thinking of my own story - the story that is yet to come for me and what I want that story to be about.
I want part of my story to be about growing thankfulness.
I want to be a person that praises God for the things I have and ignores the absence of the even better.
I want to tell that story.
So, for yet another year, I will take up the challenge of thanking Him for the things I have, living a life that forgets the could-haves. Maybe this year, thankfulness will settle a bit deeper into my heart, and I will remember for a minute longer each day.
And maybe this year, you want to take up that challenge, and come along on that journey with me.