The Power of Gratitude
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Church of Christ Minister
Recently, I was at the San Antonio International Airport waiting to board a plane. I was there very early, make that o dark thirty early. The waiting area was crowded at my gate. I found a place to sit and charge my phones.
Just as I was getting to relax, I saw them, an elderly couple sauntering, like Robert Plant, over to my space with the look of “We want your seat!”
They were persistent! They stood in front of me. I looked up at them and said, “Hold on, I just need to see if I received any calls!” I then got up and offered them my two seats. I then found myself standing in the middle of a crowded waiting area, with no seat, feeling like the waif from “Les Misérables.” The couple who stood my seating area looked comfortable and triumphant. They have their garment bags spread out all over the seats. There was no word of ‘Thank You’ from either of them.
At that moment, it would have been easy for me to scowl at them; as it was, I found myself thinking “you ungrateful selfish people!” Yes, I was exhibiting behavior described by my former mentor Rev. Dr. Lincoln Reed when he noted, “I’m far more human than I am divine.”
What is it about ungrateful behavior that drives us irate as humans? First, I think a lot of us want to believer that it is important to treat others with justice and dignity and that likewise, we would like to be treated in the same fashion.
I know a minister who preached at a church one Sunday. The temperature outside that day was over one hundred degrees. Outside the church was a man curled up sleeping on the sidewalk.
The minister side-stepped the man sleeping, entered the church and informed the layman about the man outside.
“They are always out there every day,” he said. “Well,” the minister said, “he’s out there today and we can’t leave him there. The last thing you want is a headline on the newspaper that reads ” Man dies in front of church. ” With that the layman went outside and encouraged the msn to move on. He then came back inside and sarcastically said to the minister in front of the other parishioners.
“Yes, he wants to help everyone.”
What accounts for this attitude? What accounts for this “harness of heart?”
During the Elizabethan period, here referring to Elizabeth I, not ll, there was what was known as the ” Elizabethan poor laws. “There was the distinction between what was referred to as ” the worthy poor ” versus “the unworthy poor.” One was worthy if you supported yourself and by fate if you happened to experience misfortune. You were ” unworthy poor “if you didn’t work, if you were a vagabond, and had no means of support.”
Clearly, our man who was curled up in front of the church was viewed by some as being “unworthy.”
Evidently, these people didn’t get the memo regarding the importance of hospitality, ” of being good to the sojourner and the widow and the destitute, for you were once the sojourner in a foreign land. “
Think about it, a lot of people, maybe even you and I, live out of a conditional agreement mode. “If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” Quid Pro Quo.
It’s all very transactional, it’s all so market driven. Somewhere in the mix, the humanity is not apparent.
Why is gratitude so hard to see and appreciate? Bob Dylan would say,
“Sometimes I wonder, what it’s doing to take to find dignity?”
Vivek H. Murthy MD, the 19TH Surgeon General of The United States in his book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in A Sometimes-Lonely World,” writes about a medical school professional who struggled with being a mother, a doctor, teacher, researcher, and administrator. Finding time to meditate or go on a retreat was a near impossibility for her, but whenever she washed her hands before seeing a patient, she would let the warm water run over her hands and think of something that she was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the patient’s healing, the health of her family, the joy of teaching a student earlier in the morning.
Murthy notes “she was one of the first people to teach me that the power of gratitude can be delivered in the smallest moments… and those moments have the power to change how we see ourselves and the people around us.
Years ago, a doctor friend of mine returned from a church medical mission that he had worked on in Kenya. He had donated vacation leave time to go on this mission.
The mission was a complete success. He had provided a lot of health care and healing to a lot of needy people.
As his flight from Nairobi arrived in London, my friend took off his belt and laid it on the seat next to him, preparing to go through the metal detectors.
A minute later, he noticed that the belt was gone. He ended up confronting the Kenyan man who took the belt to give it back.
I mentioned to him you need to write a story about your church medical mission trip and title it: “The Nairobi Belt.”
As Bob Dylan would say
“I offered up my innocence, got repaid with scorn.”
Jesus is noted as saying:
The Grateful Dead remind us:
“Sometimes the lights all shing on me, other times I can barely see (Truckin)
“What can it take for us to have a grateful heart and live out a grateful life?
“Gratitude helps us to appreciate the preciousness of life. It reminds us that we need to tend to be making the most of the time we have” — David Crosby.
Gratitude is where everyone has a seat to sit down, and no one is left standing feeling powerless and lonely.
May it be so now and always.
Rev. Peter E. Bauer has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Medium.Com.