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August 31, 2016

Positively Grateful

By Curtis Peter van Gorder

I recently read a fascinating book that I stumbled upon in a used bookstore. I love the way that some books seem to call out, “Read me!” The Secret Life of Water by Masaru Emoto did just that. It got me thinking just how wonderful this vital life-giving element is.

His premise is that water reflects the positive or negative force that it comes in contact with. He exposed distilled water to either positive or negative influences with speech, music, photographs, and writing. He then froze the water and photographed the crystals. The photographs in his book suggest that positive influences such as prayers, uplifting music, and positive speech caused the water to form beautiful crystals, while negative influences caused the water to not crystallize at all or form ugly formations.

Far-fetched? Perhaps, but his ideas may have caused many to question what kind of energy vibes they are generating to others.

Having lived in 14 countries over a 45-year period, I have learned the value of being positively grateful. When people have asked me which country I liked the best, I’ve had to tell them that it is the country I was living in at that moment. Each country has its own blessings and challenges, so I found that it was necessary to really appreciate the good things of the land where I resided in order to more fully enjoy the experience that life was throwing my way at that point in time.

One useful survival skill I picked up while living in the Middle East was being thankful for all that happens to me. It is reflected in the language of the people of this region when they consistently thank God for what is happening to them at that moment—whether it is an obvious blessing or a blessing in disguise in the form of heartbreak and disappointment.

An example of this is a story our theater group often performed, from the famous storyteller of the region, Juha.

Juha relates how one day despite the difficulties of his donkey dying, an extended drought, and rising prices at the market, he determined to thank God no matter what. The test soon came, as he was hoeing in his garden and a thorn came up through his shoe. After hopping around on one foot as he cried out in pain, he remembered. “Thank you, God, that these are my old shoes and not my new ones that were ruined.”

As he continued hoeing his garden, a sandstorm arose and knocked him flat. After it subsided, he thought, “I thank God it is usually fine weather. Sandstorms are very rare!”

Before resuming his hoeing, he put down his money purse, which contained the coins he had been saving to buy a new donkey. A thief who was passing by stole the purse, and despite a fervent chase, Juha was not able to catch him. Panting heavily, he asked himself, “What can I be grateful for now?” He had no answer, and so went back to hoeing.

Soon a sailor approached him and told him, “I used to be your student until I joined a ship crew. When we were in dire danger with huge waves threatening to sink our ship, I remembered that you taught us to give thanks in any situation. I did, and I am truly thankful that my life was spared. I now want to give you a gift as a small token of my gratitude.”

Opening the gift, Juha found that it contained the exact amount that had been stolen. “I lose money in one hour and gain it back the same day! How marvelous! God is good!”

After hoeing some more, Juha was now very tired. He rested under a large oak tree. Before drifting off to sleep he noticed a watermelon patch and mused, “I wonder why the large melons grow on such small vines while the mighty oaks have small acorns growing on them. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Large fruit, large tree; small nut, small vine…” His thoughts were interrupted by an acorn that hit him on the head. He suddenly understood! “I thank you, God, that you are so much wiser than me. If watermelons were growing on large trees, I would be dead now from one falling on my head.”

At the end of the day, he had a lot to be thankful for.

When I was living in Jordan, I had the opportunity to apply this principle in my own life when I was hospitalized for ten days with a life-threatening illness. It was a very positive, special time with lots of moments for reflection. It was like I was lifted up by the arms of God and brought to a quiet garden to meditate on my life. I have been very fortunate to have had good health for most of my life, so this situation was unique.

I am usually work-oriented, so to slow down and concentrate on surviving was a new experience for me, and certainly gave me a new perspective on the blessing of health. I made a resolution that when I got better I would try to give my body some cooperation by living a healthier lifestyle in my eating and exercising habits. Tottering with one toe over the chasm between life and death made me realize what really matters—loving God and others. This was nothing I didn’t already know, but there is a big difference between knowing something and making it a big part of your life.

I have tried to pass this gratitude attitude on to my children and grandchildren by playing a little game at dinner that I picked up from Michelle Obama called “roses and thorns.” Each person relates something good that happened to them that day—a rose—and a difficult, unpleasant, or challenging experience—a thorn. I found that this game sparked table conversation much more than merely asking, “How was your day?” and getting a one-word answer of “okay” or “fine.”

I believe that being grateful does not mean that we just ignore our troubles. King David of old cried out to the Lord, as recorded in the book of Psalms, asking: “My God, why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”1 Despite David’s lament, you will read later in the same Psalm that David ends his heartcry on a positive note: “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise Him—may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.”2 David overcame his discouragement by praising God in spite of how he felt.

Thank You, Lord, for all You do. The things I don’t understand, I wrap up in a bundle of faith and give to You to reveal to me in Your good time. I love You for Your goodness, even when I don’t understand, for You are the Most High. I will praise You, for truly You do all things well!

1 Psalm 22:1 NIV.

2 Psalm 22:24, 26–27 NIV.