When it comes to our thanksgiving, most of us do so retrospectively. We look back at what has taken place and we feel a rush of gratitude not only for what came our way, but also for what we were able to avoid. As the saying goes, “Some of the prayers that are answered best are those that are never answered.” At the time we may have thought we knew what was in our best interest, but in reality we had no idea what we were asking and we are blessed that what we hoped for never materialized. It might be a good source of spiritual discipline for you to make that kind of list as you “count your many blessings!”
What do you think of when you hear the word “average?” I think of a conversation I had years ago with a seminary friend and classmate. It was a stressful semester for me at that time. I was taking a heavy load and trying to balance my studies with my responsibilities at the small church I was serving. Like most of my friends, I was struggling, as were they, with the high expectations each of us had placed upon ourselves, but this one friend seemed to be remarkably at ease. Nothing seemed to bother him one bit, at least not anything related to our studies. When I asked him how he balanced everything that was going on in his life, his answer took me aback. He told me, “While the rest of you are grinding to get an ‘A’ in everything, I’m content with making a ‘C.’ I don’t expect to be anything other than an average student, and I’m OK with that.” Would you be OK with that? Would you be OK with being “average?”
I was never much of a fan of animated movies until my wife and I took our children to see Pixar/Disney’s Toy Story. Part of the film’s attraction was its touching chords from yesteryear of favorite toys and imaginative playtimes, but part of it was how the writers found ways to appeal to our quintessential hopes and dreams.
Prayer, as you know, is a powerful practice. When we go before God with the desires of our heart, we put ourselves in a place where God draws near to connect us to resources that are always sufficient for our need. You’ve surely experienced this divine help in your own life. Now it is time for us to call upon God in similar fashion on behalf of our church.
Most of us struggle with picturing what our life will look like in the days ahead, do we not? That’s the conclusion of a Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, and two of his colleagues, who recently did a study that involved more than 19,000 people on this very common trait among us humans. Their research revealed that in fact people of all ages grossly underestimate the extent to which they will change in the future. They instead end up believing that who they are today is pretty much who they will be tomorrow, despite the fact that who they are today isn’t who they were yesterday (Science, January 2013). In other words, even though we know we have changed a lot over the years that have passed, we struggle to wrap our minds around how much change is to be expected when it comes to our future.
In a Halloween week it came to my attention that a false email account with my name attached made it into many church members’ inboxes. The FALSE account asked for a hefty sum of gift cards to be sent to me so that I could in turn pass them on to people in need.
There is a quaint expression that I grew up with in rural Alabama. It was something I remember hearing people say when someone else did something nice for them. Instead of saying, “Thank you,” I remember hearing them say, “Much obliged.” When you think about it, that expression is more than a polite expression; it is also a deeply spiritual one. It means that I understand my obligation to the person that’s done something nice for me. I don’t take the act for granted. I don’t presume upon that person’s grace. I am “much obliged.”
It’s been a long time since we had young children in our house at Halloween. But I can still remember how ours always looked forward to Halloween and the chance to don a costume that represented what they might like to be if they could choose such a path. It’s been a lot longer since I was a child at Halloween. But as best I can remember, I was more concerned about the candy. I really didn’t care too much about the costume. The costume was for me simply a ticket to the treats.
In order for a person to live with any measure of purpose and significance, he has to be guided by a defined set of values that order and direct everything he says or does. These guiding values constitute core principles, bedrock beliefs that become something of a “North Star” – a fixed point of reference – that gives constancy to a person’s life even when everything all around him seems to be in a constant state of flux.