Thanksgiving: Why We Need to Be Grateful and Not Expect Others to Be Grateful to Us
Contrary to popular mythology, I’m not made of stone. My feelings get hurt from time to time same as everyone else.
Today I was transporting a young man with some severe behavioral problems to and from an outpatient treatment program. He’s rather young, under 12. He’s been in this country just two years. Our church has gone to extraordinary measures to help this boy and his whole family. I won’t elaborate on the extraordinary efforts, but just know that I mean way, way, way beyond some food and clothes and a smile. I mean extraordinary.
The boy and his sibling weren’t in church on Sunday. I wasn’t too concerned as I knew that the family that brings them and has pretty much adopted them was out of town. So we’re leaving the hospital together, the boy and I, on our way to get some ice cream as a reward for having survived his first day of treatment. Then he tells me that he and his sibling went to a different church on Sunday with a friend. The other church has a big bus that comes to your house. This is where that whole “I’m not made of stone” comment comes in.
OK. Did you enjoy it? He did. My stoney facade cracked more.
What made it enjoyable? Well, turns out they played a game where they chased a man who had money stuck all over him around the yard. If they grabbed money, they got to keep it. He got $4.
How am I supposed to compete with that? All our money runs out the door, too, but it isn’t a game. It’s just reality. I crack some more.
What was the lesson? What did you learn? He doesn’t know.
So now I’m getting ugly on the inside. I’m actually feeling smug because while the game was fun, it failed to convey a message. I say to myself: we may not be fun or have money, but surely we get our point across. Then I remember how many people we’ve lost because they didn’t get the point of the ministry we’ve been called to do. And I remember people saying I didn’t communicate the point well enough.
I feel terrible inside. I know I’m sinning like crazy. I know that I’m making it about us and about me and it isn’t. It’s all about Him.
It’s been tough lately. We’re being refined. Our Master is testing what we’re made of. Lately there’s been a lot in the paper about a particular apartment complex where we do a lot, a lot of ministry. No mention of our church. Some of our folks are frustrated by that. They see others, who do less, being celebrated. But hey, we aren’t doing what we’re doing for anyone else. We’re not doing it to be recognized. We’re not doing it to be rewarded. We’re not doing it to be celebrated. We’re not doing it to be liked. We’re not doing it to be famous. We’re not doing it even for the people we’re doing it for. We’re doing it for Jesus. And He knows we’re doing it and that’s all that matters. We do what we do not for the praise of men, but for the praise and glory of our Master.
I’ve been sad lately. A long time friend at our church simply quit coming. When I called to find out why, she hung up on me. It stung. It stung because I had personally invested so much in this family, their trials and tribulations with their kids, their worries about extended family members, the whole thing. But at the end of the day they’re gone. No explanation, no goodbye, no chance to reconcile or even explain anything. They’ve packed up and gone to a different church. It’s probably more fun. I’ll bet they can even get their point across. At least that’s my prayer. Because I’ve been reminded of two things this Thanksgiving Season: 1.) We do what we do for an audience of One. What other people think of us ultimately doesn’t matter. We are called to serve the One, not to be liked or admired or fussed over. And, 2.) We’re a part of something bigger than we are. If people are happier or get the point at other churches, that’s OK. We have a unique role to play within that greater body. Turns out we can do what others can’t, and they can do what we can’t. It’s glorious. And I’m grateful for both of these things.
So I’m having ice cream with my young friend before we go home. And out of the blue he says: “Pastor John: If I can chose where I go to church, I’ll go with you.” Thank you, God. Thank you for the opportunity to serve those who are different from us in so many ways but reflect your beauty and your holiness in such awesome ways. Thank you, Lord, that we are a part of your amazing body, the Church, which has so many different parts and reasons for being. Thank you, Christ, for reminding us whom it is whom we serve, namely, your great Self. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for accompanying us along the way. Thanks for reading. PJ