Luke 17:11-19 “The Gratitude Factor”

Comedian Louis CK tells story that sums up the message of the parable of
10 lepers. He says the problems in society today are related to this:  “Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”

I was on an airplane and there was internet – high speed internet – on the airplane. That’s the
newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go,
“Open up your laptops. You can go on the internet.”

And it’s fast and I’m watching you tube clips – it’s amazing – I’m in an airplane!

And then it breaks down. And they apologize, “The internet’s not working.” The guy next to me
goes, “This is bullshit.”

Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.

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GratitudeGratitude can slip away so quickly.
Most of us don’t lose our thankfulness in 10 seconds on an airplane, but
I know that my sense gratitude comes and goes. I wonder if ingratitude is a trait from our hunter-gatherer brain, which is so busy looking for the next meal, that it forgets the blessing of the last one.  Our consumer-oriented society is busy stimulating our old hunter-gatherer brains with more and more prey to chase (with cars or jet skis) and varieties of berries to pick (for which we may need bigger kitchens and more food processing gadgets.)  So we are constantly being conditioned to be anxious about what we don’t have rather than grateful for what we do have.

Ingratitude isn’t just about material things.  We so often take each
other for granted, forgetting our teachers and mentors, the little things our
spouse may do, all the people who work hard behind the scenes withoutcredit.


I can understand the lepers who did not return to thank Jesus for being
healed.  I had life-saving surgery seven
years ago when my intestine perforated.  I
would have died if not for several things; Jeanne taking me to the emergency
room, a skilled surgeon who had to sew me back together from the inside out,
and a nurse who saved my life in the middle of the night, as my blood pressure
dropped and fever rose, she put my IV bags in the freezer and ran ice water
through my veins to keep me alive.  (That
is why I am one cool customer!)  I
remember the morning after I came home from the hospital, looking like a
concentration camp survivor, but filled with gratitude to be home.  I slowly crept to the mail box, out of breath
from this small exertion, and I stood at the end of the driveway thankful for
the sun on my face and said to God, I’m so glad I’m alive.  May I never be lose this sense of gratitude I
feel right now and take things for granted.


But I do.  I forget all the time
as I worry about the future, feel under-appreciated, or grouse about
politics.  I forget that every minute I’m
alive is all a gift, because I used all my nine lives on five different
operating tables.  I should never have
any reason to complain.  If I was a
surgeon I think I would go around slapping all my former patients, saying “You
have a new heart, don’t eat that.  Why
aren’t you doing your exercises?”  We
just forget all the work and generosity of others that has made us who we
are.  When I get depressed, I stop myself
and remember lumbering out to the mailbox with the sun on my face.


What I learned is that gratitude is not something we feel, it is a
practice that makes life better.  As the
Apostle Paul said, “In all things I give thanks.”  Not just in good times when all is going well,
but especially in hard times.  One of the
worst parts of my time of illness was having a colostomy bag for about nine
months.  You can be grateful that I will
not tell you any stories.  You can just
take my word for it that it is a terrible nuisance.  Sometimes I hated that thing.  Whenever I had a bad experience with it, I
would stop and say, without this I would be dead.  That is what kept me from feeling sorry for
myself, (at least most of the time.)


Now some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute pastor.  Gratitude is fine, but what about times where
I’m truly suffering and miserable.  Isn’t
counting my blessings just ignoring my grief and pain?  Sometimes I just want to have a good cry or
unload my burdens with a friend.  Is that
being ungrateful?

Of course not.  Difficult
emotions are a part of life.  It is
natural to feel awful, sometimes for days and weeks, when we go through loss
and hardship.  You are human and you can’t
go around pretending to be happy when you are not.  What I think, is that at least once a day, we
need to stop and give thanks and be grateful for what we know is good, no
matter how bad we are feeling at the moment.
It is not an instant cure, but it makes a difference.  Being grateful for a moment reminds us of
that we have resources, there are things that are beautiful, people we
love.  Remembering these things helps us
re-member, to pull ourselves together.
We are more durable, we find more courage, it is easier to trust and
hope, when we take some time to be grateful.


Gratitude needs to be a part of any kind of recovery.  I saw first-hand how gratitude kept people
sober.  I usually knew who was not going
to make it through our transitional housing program where I worked in New
York.  It was the whiners and
complainers.  When things got tough and
didn’t go there way, which is a part of life, they drank, or popped some
pills.  And they went back to all the old
people, places and things that got them in trouble.  I asked one woman how she survived so many
things.  She went through the toughest
therapy program, survived foot surgery without pain meds because that was her
addiction, and after a year of recovery, she had to go back to serve a six
month prison sentence in Arkansas for an old charge, from when her then
boyfriend blew up their trailer with a failed meth lab, destroying everything
she owned.  She said, “I get up every
morning and think of everything I am thankful for.  I thank God I am alive and not in prison,
that I have a roof over my head, that I am sober, and I have numbers in my
phone that I can call if I need help.  I
don’t leave my room until I have written my “gratitudes” in my journal.”


Don’t just take my word for it.
Here are three things you can do that have been tested in clinical
studies to improve well-being.

Keep a “Gratitude
Journal.”  Writing down 3 to 5 things
every day for which you are grateful increases happiness, and even recovery
from physical illness.  Don’t just think
about it, write it down.  It is more real
when we put it in writing.  This is like
daily exercise in remembering why we are here.

Thank someone else every day.  Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher who wrote
The Happiness Advantage, found that people increased their happiness by writing
one email every day praising and thanking someone else in their social
network.  This makes sense for a simple
reasons.  Sadness is isolating, because
we pull in.  Thanking people re-connects
us, and we are likely to be happier with renewed bonds with others.

This is something Jeanne and I have done for
more than 5 years.  At breakfast we tell
each other one thing we appreciate about each other.  It can be a small thing like running and
errand, or just for listening about how hard things were at the end of a long
day.  It turns out this simple practice
increases happiness in relationships.  I
understand why.  I have to do something
every day worth appreciating.  And I have
to pay attention to Jeanne because I can’t come to breakfast and say “I got
nothing today.”


I remember singing this song growing up in church, “Count your
blessings, name them one by one.  Count
your many blessings see what God has done.” I thought it was so dumb.  Turns out I was wrong, it is actually very
wise.   Our best scientific research has finally
figured out what religion has known for centuries.  It turns out we have a need to say, “Our God
in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Meister Eckart, a mystical theologian in the 15th century
said, “I our only prayer was to say thanks, it would be enough.”

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