Sparks: 'There are people who would love to have your bad days.'
Our church is famous for its catchy signs on the marquee out front. Some of my favorites include:
"What happens in Vegas is forgiven here."
"Lower your expectations and claim a victory!"
"The secret to life is to eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure."
"Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him."
While the texting Jesus sign definitely wins the award for funniest, the most poignant award goes to a sign with a question we posted last year:
"What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?"
That one stopped me in my tracks. What if that happened? What would our world look like?
Let's think about it. What did you thank God for yesterday? Anything? Can you remember? The reality is that for many of us, if that scenario came true, our tomorrow would be one bleak world.
Let me back up a second and offer a word in our defense. It's hard to remember to be grateful when all that stares us in the face is hardship. This country is looking at a long and hard winter lockdown thanks to spiraling COVID numbers. Our family gatherings have been canceled or drastically downsized. Our economy has been hit, our confidence has been shaken and we are surrounded by daily headlines that leave little room for gratitude.
So, what does one do? There's an old saying that we cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails. Author and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl put it this way, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances ..."
With every negative, there is a positive, and if we look hard enough, we'll see it. Here's a simple example. This morning, I opened the refrigerator to get milk for my coffee. It was in the very back, behind stacks of other food. As I mumbled about having to reach past guacamole, sour cream, leftover rice and two bins of blueberries, it dawned on me that there are others who would give anything to have a refrigerator packed with food. Just like that, the negative became a positive.
How about the alarm clock? While most of us cringe when it goes off, we should give thanks! Hearing an alarm clock ring means that you're not dead - you woke up to another day! It means that your hearing works, and your eyes can focus. It means that you have a bed and a roof over your head. It means that you have electricity (many people in this world do not). And the ring of that alarm clock probably also means that you have a job. At a minimum, it means that you have a reason to get up.
Or maybe your Thanksgiving plans have cratered, and you won't be cooking a giant dinner or traveling to see family. Perhaps this negative has a positive. Think of all the years spent grumbling about the stress of cooking that dinner or getting in the holiday traffic. Maybe now — when you can't have the traditional holiday dinner - you can see past the grumbling to the true blessings of food and family that you enjoyed.
So, back to my question: What did you thank God for yesterday? Anything? If you focused your time on what went wrong, stop and find the positive in the negative. Then, go back and offer a prayer of thanks. (FYI: God accepts retroactive prayers.) Be grateful in all things. And if you find you're having trouble, just remember the words of one of our most recent church signs: "There are people who would love to have your bad days."
For a free online Advent calendar of the best of our church signs, click calendar.myadvent.net/?id=95a3e2e9e2d75726ae3488f7d91dc8c0. It starts this Sunday, Nov. 29.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, the Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of three books, including her newest, "Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year - Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!" Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com