I heard the story once about a poor woodcutter. He worked so hard and tirelessly day in and day out, yet he struggled to keep food on the table for his family. He grew tired of working so hard and being poor. He said to himself, “I would praise God if I could just have a little gold like the merchants do.” He dreamed about the chicken and meat he could eat if he had just a little gold.
Then one night, he dreams that a man with a shining face came to him telling him that God granted his wish and touched him with his staff. The woodcutter soon finds out everything he touches turns to gold. At first, he is so excited, but then he realizes he cannot even drink water, and he begs God to reverse the wish.
At last the woodcutter wakes up, and he realizes it was only a dream. He is so thankful for the wood that he can carry, the water that he can drink, the food that he can eat. He immediately stops and thanks God for all His gifts.
How often do we find ourselves acting like the poor woodcutter? We too have the tendency to focus on the problems we find, the disappointments or misunderstandings to the point that in the end we just feel like running away from our situation or wishing for a different one.
The early church fathers suffered much and a great deal of their instruction focused on the necessity to see our life events outside of time and space knowing we cannot see the full picture of what God is doing. Our modern culture and Christianity has a hard time understanding this. We must train ourselves to be able to look at life and all our experiences and the people in our lives beyond time and space. And when you can learn to do that, you find you have a whole different value and meaning from a different world. It’s a new eyeglass in which to view life. The woodcutter saw everything differently when he saw something good in his hardship.
It says in Hebrews that for the joy that was set before Christ, He endured the cross. His life was like a seed that fell into the ground and died from which a great crop sprung up and grew.
For those moments of “dying” in our lives, there is something beyond this moment now in which God is preparing a good return on that seed that dies. Even when our faith is weak, we can be childlike and thank God for what He has done, and what He will do. We can pray, “Lord, I don’t understand all that I’m going through, but I thank You for what you have done for me.” All of us will go through crises and difficulties in our lives at one time or another. It is in these moments that we find ourselves most in need of pausing and giving thanks.
I learned a sad statistic recently. It said, in America more people die of loneliness than ever before. Loneliness is a detachment; it is a separation. This sense of “I am alone” creates despair. And we can then regress into finding answers within ourselves, or from others, and in the end we really don’t find answers.
When I was living in my village in India when my children were young, I remember my son Danny, who must have been hardly 5 years old, and I were walking through the village at night after visiting my oldest brother. There was no moon in the sky; it was quite dark. The village hardly had any lights, especially where we were walking along a narrow, winding path that runs through the highland. As we were walking along, Danny heard something move suddenly nearby him. He was nervous about water snakes and all the other creatures because he used to go fishing and would see them.
He jumped and said, “Daddy, I’m afraid.” He thought something was after him. I said, “Danny, give me your hand.” And I remember taking his hand, and we kept walking. We still had another few minutes to go to get to the main road. So then I asked him, “Are you afraid; is everything okay?”
Then he said, “No, I’m not afraid.”
And I said, “Why?”
“Daddy, you are holding my hand, and I am not afraid.” All the realities of the fears, real or unreal had not been removed, but he was joyful and walking and hopping along while I had his hand in my hand.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Let me ask you a question: Does God love you? Can anything at all separate you from His love? No. We know that . . . but do we really know that. He is with us through the dark places, and His love never leaves us. When we know that, we can be free to be grateful in the midst of all kinds of needs, struggles and longings.
So, let’s not only bring God thanksgiving for everything good, but also the hard things. Thanksgiving Day in the US is a perfect opportunity to pause and be purposeful in being grateful. Somebody once said, “I was complaining and murmuring about not having a nice pair of shoes until I saw a man without legs.” We have more to thank the Lord for than we realize.
A long time ago, I heard about a practice of thankfulness which I’ve practiced myself and have passed onto many people. And today I pass it onto you. I have found this practice literally transforming.
- Write down 10 things you you’re thankful for on a 3×5 card. They can be hard things too. For example, you can write, “Thank You, Lord, that You are with Me in this trial and that You are working something deeper through it.”
- Thank God twice daily for these 10 things during your quiet time in the morning and as you go home from work.
- Every time you think of something negative, replace it with a thanksgiving item from the list.
- Continue this practice for 21 days.
Joseph was in great hardship for years: imprisonment, being misunderstood, overlooked, accused, left by his own blood. But you see throughout His story, “And the Lord was with Joseph.” And what about the One unnamed who walked into the fiery furnace? The Lord is not far off and nothing can separate us from His love so let’s not lose heart, but rather be encouraged that we can make it till the end—not somehow, not maybe limping along, no—triumphantly. And for all that He has been, is and will be for the things we understand today and the things we will understand tomorrow, let us give Him thanks.
Click here, to read more articles on Patheos by Dr. KP Yohannan Metropolitan.