Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

“Expectation is a planned resentment”

November 22, 2016

I read the following from the November 22 entry in The Mockingbird Devotional. I’m including the first paragraph here, so I can remind myself of it from time to time:

Alcoholics Anonymous has a popular saying: “Expectation is a planned resentment.” We expect to get the promotion at work, and when we don’t, we are resentful. We expect our fellow motorists to follow traffic laws (and common sense), and when they cut us off, we are resentful. We expect our spouse to meet all our needs, and when they don’t, we are resentful. We expect the church to be a functional, loving institution, and when it isn’t, we are resentful. Yet resentment is useless, like a weapon aimed at a target that always, somehow, boomerangs back at the shooter. And over time, resentment can turn into bitterness, or worse, hate.[†]

To these examples of unmet expectations that turn to resentment, we can add plenty more. I myself have been, at times, a raging cauldron of resentment—whose culprit, I now see, was an unmet expectation, a sense that life wasn’t going the way it ought to go; that life wasn’t fair; that I wasn’t getting what I “deserved.” Worse, I felt as if other people were getting something I wanted, which they didn’t deserve.

Last week, I wondered aloud how we can “enjoy God forever,” as the first article of the Westminster Shorter Catechism says. One way, surely, is to surrender to God our expectations: If I recognize I have no right to anything good, I can receive the good that comes my way as nothing but pure gift.

Wouldn’t that be something? Don’t you want to live that way? Wouldn’t you be happier if you could live that way?

On second thought, let’s hold on to one expectation only: that God will continue to love us and work through every circumstance for our good. Let’s replace every other expectation with that one. Let’s learn to say, “This may not be what I planned. This may not be what I wanted. But it is what God wanted for me at this moment. God will give me the grace to handle it. And God will use it for my good.”

There’s probably a Thanksgiving message in there somewhere.

David Zahl, “November 22” in The Mockingbird Devotional (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2013), 388.

The secret to gratitude begins with the gospel

November 27, 2015

This would have made a good Thanksgiving post yesterday, but better late than never…

Andrew Wilson, whose praises I’ve sung on this blog several times already, gave an interview this week with his wife, Rachel, about their new book, The Life You Never Expected, which comes out in the States next year. The book is about their ongoing adventure of parenting two autistic children in light of their Christian faith.

In the following excerpt, Wilson discusses what he’s learned about gratitude from the experience:

I know I’ve got to get my head around the fact that what I deserve is death and condemnation, and, instead, I’ve received life. And you start there with the gospel, really. The center of the gospel makes you grateful as you consider it—and your eschatological hope and all the rest—compared to what you have. So you stop feeling grumbly about what you have.

But as that sets in in your heart, it begins to spread sideways as well and you become grateful rather than entitled to people… other people—you know, human organizations and institutions and the like—and start thinking, “This isn’t just that I’m grateful to God that he’s given me this instead of eternal separation from God. It’s changes the way you think about gratitude toward other people as well. And you begin to feel happy and excited about things that other people assume is their rights.

Next he talks about his gratitude that in Britain he has access to health resources that many parents of autistic children in other parts of the world don’t have.

But [gratitude] starts with the gospel, and you realize this is just scandalous, and I’ve got so much more than I should have. And as that seeps through bits of your life, it does begin to change [you]. Obviously, that’s a very nice picture of it; it doesn’t always feel like that, but I genuinely think I am a much more grateful person, and I have a much better theology of gift now than I did three years ago because of learning to see gifts everywhere.

He means “scandalous” in the sense that we take so many of God’s blessings for granted.

When I hear things like this, it reaffirms my conviction that we preachers need to preach the gospel in every sermon, in one way or another. We need to continually remind ourselves of the fact that “what [we] deserve is death and condemnation,” whereas what we receive in Christ is eternal life.

Is it selfish to complain? Only if it’s also selfish to be happy

December 15, 2014
My son Townshend and I enjoyed this recent Georgia Tech victory, over Clemson.

My son Townshend and I enjoyed this recent Georgia Tech victory over Clemson.

I’m almost embarrassed to say how happy I was a couple of weeks ago when my beloved alma mater, the Georgia Institute of Technology, defeated its in-state SEC rival to win the Governor’s Cup. I say I’m almost embarrassed because of course it’s unwise to let a group of 18-22 year-olds affect my happiness to such a great extent. So the voice of reason within said, “Act like you’ve done it before, Brent.” And we have done it before, although our current losing streak had been five years.

Still, the next day at church I disappointed a few Tech fans who wanted me to gloat. But it’s not my style. Act like you’ve done it before, Brent.

Happiness from sports is a zero-sum game. One team’s happiness from winning always comes at the expense of the other team’s misery from losing. Since we Tech fans, unfortunately, are much smaller in number than University of Georgia fans, our team’s victory in this game inflicts a disproportionate amount of pain on our state. Not that I mind!

Predictably, this pain was reflected in my Facebook feed that afternoon. One clergy acquaintance posted that he was tempted to complain about so many things regarding his team’s performance and the coaching decisions but decided not to—which is probably for the best. But I gently disagreed with the reason he gave for not complaining: all the “real” suffering in the world, from ISIS’s campaign of terror against Christians to parents in his church who are grieving the death of a child.

I replied, “Yes, but by that standard what right do any of us ever have to complain about anything?” Football is trivial relative to the scale of suffering in the world—as are most things that occupy our time and give meaning to our lives. Yet, my clergy friend and I both spend money on our respective teams’ games and merchandise. Why do we do that when that same money could go to help relieve suffering in the world? Why do we even spend time watching football games when we could more productively spend that time working for justice in the world?

Do you see the problem with my friend’s logic?

If we can’t complain about “little things”—for the sake of what other people are dealing with—then we can’t complain, period. Because no matter what we’re going through on a particular day, there are always at least tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are going through something much worse.

Moreover, if we can’t complain about little things then, by all means, we can’t let ourselves be happy with little things, either! For example, how can we be happy with presents that we receive on Christmas Day when so many people around the world have nothing, or next to it? How is our happiness not selfish? How can any of us be happy until God finally balances the scales of justice in Final Judgment?

Obviously this is not a Christian disposition. For one thing, God’s Word is filled with righteous complaining and complainers. God seems O.K. with that, even as he also tells us repeatedly and emphatically to rejoice in all circumstances—no matter how favorable or unfavorable, how significant or insignificant.

God gives us gifts—even like football, which I’ve blogged and preached about before—and he wants us to enjoy them.

What N.T. Wright said, part 26

November 23, 2012

N.T. Wright. I’m sure it would be O.K. for the Right Reverend to loosen his collar.

I’m preaching this week on another classic thanksgiving text, Luke 17:11-19, the healing of the ten lepers and the one who returned to Jesus to say thanks. The grateful leper was a double-outsider—he not only had a disease that ostracized him from society, he was also a Samaritan, considered a heretic and half-breed by that same society. Yet only this outsider responded properly to God’s saving work.

It is not only the nine ex-lepers who are shown up. It is all of us who fail to thank God ‘always and for everything’, as Paul puts it (Ephesians 5.20). We know with our heads, if we have any Christian faith at all, that our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse—all that, and a million things more, are good gifts from his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab (of course, we have often made it dull and lifeless, but even there God can spring surprises). There is an old spiritual discipline of listing one’s blessings, naming them before God, and giving thanks. It’s a healthy thing to do, especially in a world where we too often assume we have an absolute right to health, happiness and every possible creature comfort.[†]

How does what we “know in our heads” become part of what we know and feel in the deepest recesses of our hearts? We can’t fake being grateful, after all—I mean, not in the long run. Either we are or we aren’t.

I want to be a genuinely grateful person. I’m sure my sermon on Sunday will struggle with these sorts of questions.

N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 206.

But that’s a gift from God, too!

June 30, 2011

I still ♥ Sleater-Kinney. More than church, truth be told!

I’m sympathetic with the pastor who wrote this post. He complains that Christians’ passions are rarely awakened by worship in the same way they are by, say, sports or movies. After admitting to his own passionate response to action movies, he writes:

Now the point: nobody, I notice, engages my sermons this way. Nobody seems viscerally involved, vicariously transported, by my exposition of 1 Corinthians or my teasing out of the nuances of the Chalcedonian Creed. Occasionally, on one of my better days, my humor tickles them. My urgency moves them. My pathos touches them. And, quite often, a number of people get physical during the singing—arms lifted high, head tilted back, eyes closed. Some even dance, in a Baptist kind of way, which is to say they weave their shoulders slightly and do a little two-step with their feet.

But no one seems to lose themselves. No one gets as personally involved in word and worship as my father did with linebackers or as I do with action heroes.

When I was in seminary, I pastored a small church. We worshiped between 50 and 60 on Sundays. It was small enough that I would feel the absence of one or two large families on a given Sunday.

This was a slight problem for me in the fall, during college football season. One of the families that anchored the church—a family I love dearly—were also the most passionate University of Georgia football fans I’ve ever met (which is saying something, believe me). They traveled by entourage to all the games, both home and away. When there was an away game on Saturday, I could count on their large corner of the church being empty the next day, as they were traveling home from wherever UGA had played.

I hated those away games! My only consolation, as an embittered, die-hard Georgia Tech fan, was found in their losing those away games. I wanted to say to visitors to church on that Sunday, “It’s not usually this empty! Come back next week! Georgia’s playing at home!”

But I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I became too indignant about it. “Why do so many people like sports and movies more than church?” Heck, I like sports and movies more than church! I mean, not all sports and not just any movie, but I get passionate about these things—and especially music—more than I get passionate about going to church. As a pastor, I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s true.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is, by all means, the greatest story ever told. But we know the ending already. Worship isn’t surprising or suspenseful. Besides, saying that we get more passionate about things other than church isn’t the same as saying that we regard these things as more important or more necessary. I’m not saying that our passions can’t become idolatrous, but they don’t necessarily become that way.

Moreover, I don’t like the false dichotomy that this article implies. It says that there’s this part of the world that belongs to God—like churchgoing—and this part of the world that doesn’t belong to God—like sports and movies.

One Thanksgiving many years ago, my mom tried to implement a new tradition. As we gathered around the table for the meal, Mom had each of us—children, grandchildren, in-laws, friends—say one thing that we were thankful to God for. Most of the responses weren’t very original. “I’m thankful for my family.” “I’m thankful for my health.” “I’m thankful for Jesus.” I wanted to gag!

When it was my turn, I said, “I’m thankful for Sleater-Kinney.” I had to explain to my un-hip relatives that they were (at the time; they’ve since broken up) an amazing female punk-rock trio out of Olympia, Washington, who had set my world on fire the previous year. I ♥ Sleater-Kinney! Seriously! I still do!

My sister Susan scolded me: “Brent, be serious!” But I was serious! One thing I was very thankful to God for over the previous year was Sleater-Kinney. I found God in their music.

One thing I’m passionately interested in communicating to my parishioners is this: If it’s good, it’s from God. That good game is from God. That good movie is from God. That good piece of music is from God. Every good gift, if it’s truly good, is from God. So our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude for these gifts as well.