When my girls were little, we played a game around the dinner table. We called it “best thing, worst thing.” The idea was to around the table, and each person would say the best thing that happened to them that day, followed by the worst thing. This little game had several purposes. First, it spurred dinnertime conversation. Second, it gave Ashley and me an opportunity to teach into our kids’ lives. I was never really great at doing the family devotional thing; we did better when we just used whatever was happening in their lives at the moment to teach God’s truth and His perspective on the joys and trials of life.
The third, and maybe most important thing about “best thing, worst thing” is that it forced them to think about something really great God had done for them that day, a blessing they had been given. It was so successful that over time we decided we liked “best thing” a lot more than “worst thing,” and while it was really important to teach them God was in the trials of life, we eventually made them tell us two “best things” for every “worst thing.” God let us stumble upon the importance of cultivating gratefulness.
The older I get, the more convinced I become that gratefulness is the gateway to holiness. Intentionally cultivating gratefulness, which is a spiritual discipline, actually rewires our brains and makes us more positive, God-minded people. And, positive, God-minded people are desperately needed in this culture.
We live in what is perhaps the most prosperous, healthy era of human history. And yet, we are probably among the whiniest people in the history of humanity. Whether the conversation revolves around politics, entertainment, medicine, transportation, technology, or education, if you ask people how things are going, they will almost always reply, “they’re getting worse.”
And, yet, if you were to tell them that you had a time machine, and that you would gladly take them to any past era in human history and leave them, no one except the truly adventurous or truly deluded would take you up on it.
The truth is, we live in a remarkable time. But, just like the people of Israel, getting bread and meat delivered to their doorstep every morning, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead them, their clothes miraculously never wearing out, we always find something to gripe about, don’t we? And, in the age of social media, we are all too quick to share our little ailments with others.
As people who are called to be beacons of righteousness, full of joy, living in “Whiny World,” we have the greatest opportunity in the history of mankind to be distinctive. In a world where complaining is rampant, what if we were consistently thankful and grateful for what we’ve been given? What if, instead of looking for something to complain about, we actually looked for things to be grateful for? How would we stand out as someone different, someone whose life was maybe, I don’t know, transformed?
It’s not that difficult to do. We are, even now, living in the most free, most prosperous nation in world history, a tiny smidgen of humanity so privileged. And, we can be grateful for what we have in this school when we look at its history. In the early 1970s, an era where people were leaving public schools to flee desegregation, the founders of this school distinctively determined that it would be founded on the gospel, and training up kids who loved Jesus, not on “white flight.” When an element of families interested in starting a school for those reasons came around, church leaders shelved plans to start the school for over a year, until those elements went away, and the gospel could be the focal point.
We can be grateful for parents who gathered together on Saturdays 40 years ago to paint the school, to have workdays, to plant the seeds of what we have now. We can be grateful that neither the school nor its parent church grew through turmoil or splits over doctrinal issues, but through humble men and women who allowed the Holy Spirit to mold them and change their hearts, to seek forgiveness and extend forgiveness, the school becoming sanctified as they became sanctified. And, we can be thankful for the deep, hard-fought relationships that gave rise to the community we now enjoy. What a gift! To say nothing of Blue Ribbons, of Henderson Cups, of the amazing things God is doing daily.
We can be grateful for each other, too. You are an amazing, gifted bunch of people with great, sometimes messy, but loving and beautiful families, living in community, which is itself a gift. We’ve been given a mission as sons and daughters of your Father to equip these kids of ours to take the Good News of His Son, the most important story ever told, to the four corners of the earth.
Surely we can find something to be grateful for in the midst of all that! And so, this week, as you celebrate Thanksgiving with your messy, loving and beautiful family, please take time to focus on the “best things” you’ve been given. Rewire your brain, heart, and soul for gratefulness, for holiness, and speak life into a world that’s forgotten how to be grateful.
Our dinner table is a lot quieter these days, but the other day my wife and I received a text from one of my girls at college. She was just reading her Bible, and wanted to drop a quick and simple note to say how thankful she was for parents who taught her to follow Christ.
Knowing that a simple game around our table, over time, had rewired her brain for imperfect, but undeniable gratefulness to God? Now, that was my “best thing.”