The poor are lucky. It is so much easier to be thankful when you are poor. Give a poor person just about anything and they are thankful, because they know that the only way they could have much of anything is through the generosity of others.
I am not nearly so lucky. Being a affluent American, I can have just about anything I want and, certainly, I have everything that I need, or that I think I need. I am not so rich as to be able to have everything, but then I do not want everything. I want a good lens for my camera, but I do not want a $200,000 yacht.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor,” and I am beginning to understand why. In my prayers, I take time to thank God for many things in my life: my wife, my health, my family, but also more mundane things, like the chair that I am sitting on, and the floor, and napkins, and my toothbrush. The list of things for which I can express thanks is very long and the more I thank God, the more things I notice for which I should give thanks.
But, there is a problem. Though I give thanks for many, many things in my life, it is surprisingly easy to say, “Thank you,” without any feeling or sense of gratitude. This happens all the time with young children. On his birthday, Johnny gets a present from Grandma. He rips open the package, recognizes its contents as something very exciting, and immediately starts playing with his new toy, at which point mom yanks him aside to instruct him, “Now, Johnny, what do you say to Grandma?” In a monotone voice, evidence of that sense of moral obligation with which we are all familiar, he recites, “Thank you, Grandma.” While we might be thinking, “How cute!” we know that his mind is focused entirely on that new toy. He is very excited about the gift, but just how grateful is he, despite his words?
It is my daily practice to thank God in my prayers for many things in my life. But the more I thank God, the more I wonder if I am truly grateful. Or am I like the gentiles (hah! I am a gentile!) who babble words and phrases, but are not really serious about engaging with God Almighty? Being affluent, it is far, far too easy for me to believe that my own hands provide all that I have and I have to admit that it sure looks that way: I work; I get paid; I buy what I want and need. As a result, I am at very high risk of giving thanks to God where the prayer is no more than a simple recitation of words out of moral obligation rather than a heartfelt feeling of profound gratitude for everything that I have.
Is it any wonder that Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”?