I am acquainted with a middle-aged couple who would appear from the outside to be living the dream. They have a lovely, comfortable home, nice well-equipped cars, healthy grown children and take frequent excursions to pleasant nearby getaway destinations. And yet, they seem fundamentally unhappy with their lot in life. The usual greeting of “how are you’” is responded to with a sigh and a look of world-weariness. When you question their response they specify the standard sturm and drang that is part of every life. As I repeatedly listen to their litany of dissatisfaction, I tend to consider the multitude of individuals who would joyfully change places with this couple.
I often remind my parishioners that we are marketed into a state of restlessness by the economic engine that drives our economy. It’s elementary, my dear Watson – if I manufacture automobiles and can convince you that your current transportation is shabby and outdated then the next phase of my master plan persuades that a new purchase will make you slimmer, attractive to younger men and women and your entire life will be filled with admiration, sunshine and sexual magnetism. I understand this marketing technique and have even been seduced by it’s brilliant ability to creep inside my brain and uncover my hidden longings. However, the sinister underbelly of this relentless performance means that we are never happy. “If only,” we tell ourselves. “If only I had that car, that house, that credential. If only, I had those abs and that country house, that financial bonus then I would finally and forever be happy.”
It’s like a curse from a childhood fairytale: to be in perpetual dissatisfaction with what one possesses. In the stories from our childhood it’s always some wicked creature that casts a spell and the entire tale is a search for a solution. Well I think I have it: not true love’s kiss, (that never hurts by the way) not magic jeweled shoes, or an incantation by a professor from Hogwarts. The antidote from self-pity, greed and discontent is gratitude. This Sunday’s readings are about the power of appreciation. When the ugly monster of disappointment surfaces on your consciousness you can trap and tame it by merely considering the infinite blessings of your existence. Clean water, a hot shower, friends who make you laugh, a great book, lemon meringue pie, your grandmother’s china, cheeseburgers with fries, Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, nature, the smell of the rain, the song from your first dance and the words of Jesus who told us we are loved by God. Jesus, who shows us that anything is possible – even life after death. The next time you feel the presence of the gorgon of displeasure just summon those images of thankfulness. Replay them in your mind like a slide show. The beast despises contentment – face the monster with satisfaction and the monster simply disappears~“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh