10:30 PM. Wednesday July 12th. I’m wide awake and my wife has long ago drifted off. It’s not supposed to be a contest, but somehow when she falls asleep first I feel cheated, and on my worst days that feeling can send me spiraling down a ridiculous hole of self pity, made all the deeper this week by the global context of violence, fear, and racism that seem to be spreading like a pandemic virus without a cure.
I decide that awake and watching the completion of the ESPY’s, ESPN’s annual sports awards show is as good as awake and simmering with frustration in bed. I wrap myself in blankets and settle in just in time for the award for courage, given this year to Craig Sager, a sportscaster for TNT, who has terminal leukemia, but who has lived his life abundantly, courageously, and joyfully through the midst of wrenching treatments. He has, as much as possible, continued to work, laugh, love, and do his job with both grace and gratitude. You can see his story and acceptance speech here. It’s a twenty minute investment of time, but I’d suggest a much better investment of time than Pokeman-Go, political conventions, or some of my sermons. Enjoy – and I’ll see you in twenty minutes, or if you want the essence, try this.
By the end I’m wiping tears from my eyes and when the speech is over I turn the TV off and pray. I confess how prone I’ve been lately to living small – confess that I’ve been worried about the future, sad about growing older, overwhelmed by feeling that there’s too much to do, even though it isn’t true. Craig’s story puts things in perspective, but not in a “you think you have it bad – just look at that guy with cancer” sort of way.
Instead, Craig reminds me of the very thing I’ve been studying earlier in the day in preparation for preaching Sunday. He reminds me that gratitude is a choice, utterly unrelated to circumstances. I’d said the very same thing to some of my staff last week in a meeting, but applying the words I speak? Now that’s a different, and harder task. Craig’s little speech brought his own choice to bless others and stay in the game into stark relief, not with my outer persona, but with my inner attitude. Anxiety displaces peace. Complaining wins another round, crushing gratitude. Cynicism carries the day over encouragement.
As I ponder this and listen to Craig’s speech again this morning, I come to discover that the difference between this sportscaster and this preacher is that sportscaster has, right in the midst of terminal cancer, developed what I call “the Art of Seeing” and this art is the main ingredient of gratitude. A favorite author of mine writes in “A Listening Heart” that the path to God starts at the gates of perception. How much splendor of life is wasted on us because we go through life half blind, half deaf, with all our senses throttled and numbed by habituation. He goes on to challenge me. Will I wake up and begin paying attention to the daily wonders and miracles which, if I but see them, will naturally lead to joy and gratitude? Or will I continue to take the thousand miracles a day for granted – walking through life as one of those of whom Jesus speaks, “having eyes but not seeing – ears but not hearing?”
In prayer, I tell my friend Jesus that I choose the latter. I ask for fresh eyes to see the miracles of life all around me, and soon fall asleep.
Thursday, July 13th. Everything is different today even though nothing’s changed. Two neighbors help my wife haul some logs from a neighbor’s house to ours, while I study for my sermon. When they’re finished, I invite them in for good coffee and tell them the story of my little Italian coffee making machine. I give thanks for these new friends, unknown to me just a few years ago but now woven into the fabric of my life as sources of joy, laughter, and support. During my next break from studies I split wood and instead of the common theme all summer of cursing my aging body, I’m grateful for the ability to do it at all, grateful for the smell of the sap, grateful that this wood, gathered in the heat of summer, will become the heat of winter while snows fall outside. Grateful for my wife who sets the pieces I split and stacks the wood; that she finds more joy in the forest than I do gives me joy. Grateful for the scent of the air, and the little forest aviary nearby, where both birds and squirrels gather for a meal. My whole body is smiling and yes, my shoulder hurts; I have a cold; I’m getting old and the wood splitting stuff is more challenging than ever. Yes, I’ll watch the news tonight and violent deaths again. In France. Gratitude doesn’t alleviate pain. Rather, it fills the cup that is our life so that, right in the midst of the pain, we’re able to be people of hope – like Craig.
In “A Listening Heart”, David Rast says, “Every night I note in a pocket calendar one thing for which I have never before been consciously grateful. Do you think it’s difficult to find a new reason for gratitude every day? Not just one, but three, four, five, pop into my mind some evenings…”
Seeing the gifts raining down on our lives every day and making enough space to express gratitude is, for me, the front range lesson I’m learning. It’s what I most need to practice, and I suspect I’m not alone. Everywhere I look people are afraid, angry, and anxious.
But before there’s a solution to the world’s problems, there’s a desperate need for us to become better people. And that begins with paying attention, and seeing, and gratitude.
Are you in? I am. Let’s travel the road together.