Choosing Gratitude-Genesis 41: 41-56

I have the power to choose to do good, as well as evil.”  Those words were spoken over four hundred years ago by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.  One reason I am United Methodist is her people and history clearly articulates persons have been created by the hand of God, stamped with the divine image, and given faculties to choose.

It is one thing to say we have the freedom to choose.  However, the ability to choose rightly, when facing a baffling mixture of light and darkness in a context of ambiguity can be much more difficult.  I realize it is easy to speak about choosing to be grateful.  It is much harder to practice when we are sorting out our blessings and challenges.  Choosing always to be grateful is a challenge that requires unusual courage.

We hold up the Old Testament character of Joseph.  He was a man who chose gratitude in the midst of several life crises.  Joseph was the product of a mother and father who fell in love at first sight, but had to wait years before they could conceive.  Thus, when he was born an inordinate amount of attention came his way.  Predictably, his brothers were jealous of little Joseph who grew up sheltered in his own world of preference and privilege.  It should not be surprising that Joseph became spoiled and arrogant.

When Joseph was 17 years old his father showed how insensitive he was to the feelings of the rest of his sons.  He had the audacity to send the idle Joseph all dressed up in his coat of many colors to see how the other brothers were coming along with their work.  In Hebrew, that expression we have always translated to be a “coat of many colors” can be literally translated “a coat with long sleeves”; further suggesting this was not a coat for doing hard labor, but was a coat of leisure and comfort.

No one, except Joseph, should have been surprised at the explosion of hostility these unblessed sons unloaded on their baby brother when he showed up on the scene.  Yet, for Joseph this was a shock to his system to be confined in a dry cistern while his brothers ate lunch and deliberated on what do with a human life.  Through this experience, Joseph found out that in the real world there are callous and cruel people willing to do all sorts of atrocious things.  He was forced to develop a strategy of coping with the ambiguous situation that would lead to being sold to slave traders.

The miracle is Joseph did not collapse completely from this trauma since he was so unfamiliar with hardships.  Joseph would not only come of age about the nature of the real world; but he also came of age on how to cope creatively with ambiguity.  His new found coping mechanism was to employ the strategy of gratitude in the midst of this horrible situation.

He resisted asking the resentful question, “Why is this happening to me?”  Rather, he asked the gratitude question.  He looked at the broken pieces of his life and tried to determine what he could use to build toward the future.  Those are two different ways of approaching a single event.  The different answers those questions yield determines how we deal with perplexing situations.  Answer to the resentful question leads to despair.  Answer to the gratitude question allows us to reflect the image of God in our lives.

The ambiguities in Joseph’s life would increase over the next seventeen years.  The slave traders sold him to man named Potipher, who had absolute authority over him.  Once in Potipher’s household, he had opportunity to prove himself as a capable leader in a way he never would have had under his pampering and doting father.  Joseph worked his way up the slave ladder and became the overseer of Potipher’s household.  It was Joseph’s grateful attitude, as he approached this new opportunity, which enabled him to cope successfully with testing situation.

When it appeared things were getting better, Joseph was falsely accused of seducing the bosses’ wife.  Now, Joseph was forced again to decide if he was going to fight back with resentment and despair or choose to be grateful for the resources he held in his hand for the moment.  Joseph chose to be grateful despite being unjustly accused and landing in prison.  Perhaps he thought to himself, “I am lucky to be alive because most slaves accused, as I was, would have been executed on the spot.”  I believe the strategy of gratitude is what kept Joseph from blowing up or giving up.  Choosing to be grateful is the secret to resilience in difficult situations.

Finally, Joseph’s fortunes turned when the seemingly impossible occurred.  Because of his ingenuity Joseph came to the attention of the Pharaoh at a critical moment in the life of the kingdom.  Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was so impressive Pharaoh put in him charge of all of Egypt.  Joseph went from being a forgotten slave to second only to Pharaoh.  Joseph’s story represents the difference gratitude can make when it comes to dealing with difficult and ambiguous situations.

When we gather at a family funeral our sense of loss and remembrances are always mixed with words of gratitude for the one we grieve.  It would be easy to make the choice to focus on the question of why they are gone or why we have to cope without them.  Or, we can make another choice that focuses on the question of what do we have left in our hands that will allow us to build a different future.  That choice is always before us as we negotiate life.  The different answers those two questions yields determine if a person will be a victim or a victor over the unfortunate events.  People who consciously choose to be grateful will be the ones who will find the courage in the worst of times to keep on doing the best of things; reflecting the glory and guidance of God’s hand, which made us and will sustain us.

Our pilgrim forefathers, who we remember on this Thanksgiving week, faced this same choice in 1621.  We have heard many times before about how that little band of Puritans set out on the Mayflower for Virginia only to get blown off course and come ashore along Cape Cod.  We know how the winter was much worse than they expected and by April only fifty of the original one hundred and two had survived.  History tells us a serious discussion arose on whether those remaining should return to the Old World.  But, the decision was made to stay and plant a few acres of corn and barely, and the rest is the history of our great land.

Did you know that when the time came to observe their first anniversary another discussion arose on how it should be observed?  Some proposed a day of mourning, focusing on those lost who now laid in unmarked graves on foreign soil.  Would have been different if those Pilgrims had chosen to mourn?  Others proposed a day of thanksgiving for the fifty who had survived, the crops harvested, and the Native Americans who were new friends.  We know they decided to observe a day of thanksgiving; a turning point in the founding of our nation.

We do know; gratitude is potent resource for coping with difficulty.  When we chose and express it in uncertain situations, we reflect the nature of God.  This is what Joseph and the Pilgrims did.  Gratitude can do the same for us in whatever difficulty we face.  We are to also remember on this Thanksgiving Week our lives are connected to Christ, who approached the terrible injustice and incredible grief of an undeserved Roman cross with gratitude, assured even then he was in his Father’s hands.  Jesus’ choice of gratitude made our redemption possible.

When we consciously choose gratitude, we redeem our future by taking the present and perhaps broken parts of lives and trust a redeeming God knows what to with life offered freely in gratitude.  Choose Gratitude and we’ll have a Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow pilgrims!  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Published in: on November 19, 2012 at 8:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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