To say that the first quarter of this school year was tough could quite possibly be the understatement of the year. Not only did COVID sicknesses hit the area much earlier than we thought, our team experienced a number of difficulties that no one could see coming. At one stretch, we were down 25% of our team. Consequently, we were all doing what we could do just to simply keep the school open and do our best to provide some sense of normalcy for our students.
One day, I was discussing our situation with a friend - well, honestly, the word discussion isn't quite right. Actually, I was complaining. He's a good friend, so he listened patiently for as long as he could. Finally, when I reached the end of his patience, he said something that I still haven't been able to forget. After a short pause, he said, "You know, Shane, I have often found that to be ungrateful is often to be unholy."
It was one of those moments when the truth stabs you awake and changes your outlook. In this case, it also sent my mind racing to scripture where I was reminded of the same lesson through a familiar story.
That story is found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17. One day when Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, he was passing through Samarian Galilee into a village where he met 10 lepers. These sick and unclean men were forced to stand at a distance because they had a contagious disease that made them unclean and barred them from the most personal of interaction. That means they were hurt, lonely, and desperate.
So when Jesus came into view, they cried with loud voices from a distance, "Jesus have mercy on us." When Jesus saw them, he gave them a simple command. Go and show yourselves to the priest. As they went, they were cleansed.
I can imagine the rush of emotion that flooded their bodies. I bet they couldn't wait to get to the priest and get back to a normal life - life before the disease stole more from them than they could account for. I am willing to bet that they had a list of people they wanted to see and share the good news with. I'm sure there were places they wanted to visit, places they had not been able to see in some time.
One of them, however, had a different thought. When he saw that he was healed, he did not immediately race home to family and friends. Instead, he turned back in order to praise God with a loud voice. With an exuberant and understandable joy, he came to Jesus and fell down at his feet, giving thanks to him.
The response Jesus gave was astounding. He asked a series of simple, convicting questions. Were there not 10 who were cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except for this one?
Jesus doesn't have to say anymore for us to see the point and to see how right my friend's simple statement truly was - to be unthankful is to be unholy.
So, I began to take a moment and review my life, thanking God specifically for the many blessings he's given me. I walked the halls of our school, but I began looking through them with different eyes. When I did, I didn't just see sickness and struggle and hard times. I saw people who felt absolutely called to this ministry, giving their best for the Lord Jesus every single day. I saw people with a high level of character investing the best of themselves to help students be the best version they could be of themselves. I saw people working with great skill, doing everything they could to invest in the next generation.
What I saw were plenty of reasons to be grateful, and for the first time in a long time, I was.
As we finish up November and move into December, it's easy to get caught up in our ever-growing list of things to do and ever increasing number of places to be. If we're not careful, we might follow the example of the nine who forgot how blessed they were instead of the one who raced back to Jesus to give thanks.
Perhaps this season we should make it a goal to be thankful at Thanksgiving. Let's take every opportunity God gives us to express gratitude, not only to God, but also to the people God has placed in our lives. Who knows? It might be just what they need.