We enrich our lives when we pause to observe and reflect upon our experiences. We’ll then more easily notice the blessings to be thankful for. Even blessings that we rarely consider. That's what today's episode is all about.
Many of us here in the US will sit down tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s custom in many homes to go around the table with each person expressing something they’ve been thankful for in the past year. One year when our kids were very little one of them blurted out “I’m thankful that when I say the number 7 I don’t explode.” Giggles would follow. It’s hard being thankful in the midst of giggling.
A more common response to what are you thankful for invokes family, friends, and good health. Not to minimize these blessings of gratitude, for today, though, I want to consider other blessings we can be thankful for that we rarely consider.
Black Friday and commerce
A few years ago a missionary serving overseas posted on Facebook her disgust with Black Friday and commercialism of life back in the US. She went on for several paragraphs chastising Americans for our materialism in no uncertain terms. Black Friday appalled her.
I’m no fan of materialism, but I’m a big fan of Black Friday.
The term “Black Friday” came about to describe businesses that finally get out of the red for the year. It’s isn’t until shopping picks up after thanksgiving that they finally turn a profit and get into the black, where income (the black)starts to exceed expenses (the red). It’s sort of an accounting term.
If it weren’t for commerce, where would missionary support come from? Black Friday indirectly supports missionaries and the spread of the Gospel. It enables businesses to provide jobs for people that in turn provides income for people to support their families and support local and global ministries, like missions. So I say three cheers for Black Friday!
One Sunday several years ago Janet and I went to the church our executive producer Carol and her husband Terry attend. As part of the church service, they prayed for a local business. That it would be successful in serving its customers and providing jobs for people. What a wonderful outreach to the community, I thought.
Without Black Friday
- A single friend of ours living on social security we spoke to just recently would not have a seasonal job to supplement her meager government income
- Two of our grandsons would not be able to pick up additional hours at their part-time jobs to help pay for their college expenses
- People would have fewer opportunities to express one of the five love languages Gary Chapman writes about: Gifts. While some people undoubtedly shop for themselves on Black Friday, most shop for Christmas gifts for others. It’s about the love. Don’t you feel it?
Bethany Fellowship in Minneapolis
I wonder if the missionary I mentioned who blasted the consumer mentality of Americans knows the story of Bethany Fellowship in Minneapolis.
It was founded by five businessmen in 1945 with the vision of sending and fully supporting 100 missionaries.
The families of these five businesspeople sold their homes and pooled their resources to acquire a common residence, a large, 30-room home in Minneapolis called “Bethany House.” They did this to reduce unnecessary work and expenses so more time and money would be available for working together to support sending missionaries to the mission field.
To fully support these missionaries they started several businesses, the most successful of which were Bethany camping trailers and Bethany House Publishers.
Bethany Global University is another of their initiatives. It prepares future missionaries to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world. All of this was started over 70 years ago by five businessmen.
It is a great story of using the world of commerce for Kingdom purposes.
It’s certainly out of the mainstream of what we normally give thanks for on Thanksgiving, but Black Friday and the world of commerce are certainly blessings to be thankful for.
In 1993 a great book came out that never really took off with readers. It should have. The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity by Steven and Sybil Wolin. It raises, then answers the question, “Why do people who grow up with difficult childhoods often turn out so differently as adults?” Some become dysfunctional adults, while others thrive. In their research, they found that those who later thrive as adults do so because they develop one or more of seven resiliences. One of which is humor.
Humor got me through adolescence. I wasn’t a class clown; I didn’t entertain people with jokes. But I did find comfort in noticing incongruities in life, in puns, and satire.
My wife Janet and I went to high school together, and she was the co-editor of our high school newspaper. We weren’t dating at the time, but she saw my humor come out in the few classes we were in together. So she asked if I would write a column for the school paper, which I did for two years. “Off the Beaten Path” is what it was called. It was supposed to be funny. And sometimes it was.
I loved writing it and found it got my eyes off all the tension and dysfunction going on at home with my parents.
Humor is a tricky thing, though. It can connect us with one another, or it can separate us. Humor that comes out as silliness, sarcasm, or making fun of others pushes people away. And even good humor, when used too often, can draw undue attention to self, which bores people and distances us from each other.
You need humor in Africa
I learned about humor from a missionary’s perspective a number of years ago. It was on my first missions trip, which was to Mali in West Africa. Mali is where Timbuktu is located. One of the Missionaries there talked about the importance of language learning. If you don’t learn the native language well, he said, you’ll miss out on the humor of the culture. You’ll miss the puns. You’ll miss the jokes, he said. And you won’t fit into the culture.
When done well, humor is a blessing we can be thankful for. It brings us together when we laugh about shared experiences. A while back we were leaving church and while walking past cars in the parking lot saw a friend in her car who rolled down the window and began chatting with us. She started by saying, “Did you hear the news this morning? The CEO of Ikea was just elected president of Sweden?
“Really? No, I hadn’t heard that,” I said.
“Yes, and he’s assembling his cabinet now.” She responded.
If I were to explain why that joke is funny it would take away from the humor. But in the days afterward, I re-told it to friends and family, and we shared a good laugh each time. It connected us.
So when I think about that particular Thanksgiving many years ago when our young son blurted out “I’m thankful that when I say the number 7 I don’t explode,” it reminds me of how parents can bless their children by helping to nurture in them a sense of humor.
So humor is the second blessing I’m thankful for. Here’s the third one.
Gracious and thankful people
Two months ago in September 2021, the Art Institute of Chicago fired all 82 of its docents because they were not diverse enough in the eyes of the museum's leadership. They were mostly older white women who volunteered their time to give guided tours of the Institute’s extensive art collection. They averaged 15 years of experience.
This prompted a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal by Lauren Arnold of Mountain View, CA. I’ll read part of her October 20th letter. She writes:
“The foolish and shortsighted firings of volunteer docents at the Art Institute of Chicago will destroy decades of enlightened outreach to the public-school children of this major city [i.e., Chicago]. I know this because I owe my entire career as an art historian to the docents of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“My parents never took us to art museums – ‘those are for rich people’ – so my first introduction to Chicago’s art treasures was on a 7th-grade public-school field trip, when our rowdy busload of racially diverse, working-class kids was met by a brave young docent who took us through the institute’s awe-inspiring galleries. I’ve never forgotten that day. It was akin to Harry Potter’s first visit to Hogwarts. We floated up the marble staircases gazing at the enormous paintings of Greek myths, and walked through galleries of Impressionist works beyond compare.
When it looks like no one listened
“Our docent told us: ‘You live in Chicago, so this is your art. This building and everything in it belongs to you. Like your library, you can come here anytime you want. All of this beauty belongs to you.’ At the end of our tour, she got us on our bus to the South Side and waved us a rueful goodbye. Her face showed that she already knew that not a single one of us had listened to her, that none of these kids cared.
“But she was wrong: My 12-year-old self was listening and her words set me on a path that shaped my professional life. I credit the docent program of the Art Institute of Chicago, with its highly educated women volunteers, for providing this invaluable outreach to city kids, who never would have known it without them.
“…that day this volunteer was an intellectual wizard, pointing me toward a life beyond my childhood schooling in Chicago’s slums. She took us into one aspect of our civilizational past and made us heirs of the beauty of humanist culture.”
What a beautiful piece of writing that comes from the heart to express the writer’s deep gratitude for the passion a docent imparted to her 12-year-old self.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
I wonder what are the unusual blessings you can be thankful for? What are the unremarkable things in your life, that if you reflect upon, will evoke gratitude?
I wonder how you might use humor to help you connect with people, and perhaps ease tension in a relationship.
And then there are the grateful people we are sometimes blessed to have in our life. People we just like to be around because they so appreciate the little and simple things of life. Maybe we could try to follow their example so that others are drawn to us as we become a blessing they can be thankful for.
If we ask Him, I bet God would show us how to do this.
Here’s the main point I hope you remember from today’s episode
We enrich our lives when we take time to observe and reflect upon our experiences. When we do so we’ll more easily notice the blessings to be thankful for.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. Just send them to me in an email to john [at] caringforothers [dot] org. Or you can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Comment” box at the bottom of the show notes.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act by considering the blessings in your life to be thankful for. In doing so you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
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Well, that’s all for today. Happy Thanksgiving to all our American listeners. See you next week at the very beginning of December. Goodbye for now.
A related episode you may want to listen to
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