My ultra-boring life

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Gratitude and Having a Net Gain in Life

We had a lesson in Relief Society today that got my brain churning again (you can usually tell by the steam coming out of my ears).  Not necessarily totally new stuff, but new information on a topic that I've thought about a lot over the years.  Gratitude.

Now, as with many things, data gathered by science (for instance, here and here) is beginning to support a long-held admonition by religious entities (New Testament: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Old Testament: Psalms 106:1, Doctrine and Covenants 46:32, 98:1, 59:7, and many other examples) that we be grateful in all things.  Not exactly surprising; even if you don't believe in God, you can believe that such things were developed by wise men passing down information gained through observation for generations.  This is not the thing that really made me think, though.

One of the biggest stories of gratitude given in the New Testament is the story of the ten lepers as told in the book of Luke, Chapter 17, verses 12-19.  In that story, ten lepers were cleansed/healed by
Christ, but only one came back and thanked him.  Christ told him, "Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole."

Now. my personal experience with gratitude has been profound, but it is still something I ponder and work on and try to explain to others.  Part of what I have pondered can perhaps be better explained through this story, redone in my extremely wordy way, so please bear with me.  :)

Leprosy back then was a horrible, horrible thing.  Just about the worst thing that could happen to you.  Not only did it physically make your life miserable and could permanently disable and/or disfigure you, but because it was contagious and there was no known treatment, it made you socially, religiously, and legally a complete outcast.  Not only did the disease make it difficult to function from day to day, but no well person could be near you; you could no longer be with your family or friends or anyone who could help you even to meet your physical needs, let alone relieve some of the suffering or cure you.  Not only this, but leprosy, as far as we understand it, was probably considered by Judaism to be part of a class of skin diseases called "tzaraath," which made you ritually impure and was considered to be divine retribution for the offender's failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others.  So you not only had this horrible physical malady, and legally couldn't be close to healthy people anymore, but everyone was taught that you had this disease because you were a bad person.  Ugh.  The suffering trifecta.

Now, imagine you had this horrible disease.  Imagine you had it for a long time, maybe 10 years.  The only people who could be around you would be other lepers.  You couldn't even go near healthy people without giving a signal that you were a leper, so that they could keep their distance and remain "clean."  How would you feel about that?  Would you feel that life was unfair?  That God was unfair?  That you had been cursed?  That this was wrong and it shouldn't have happened to you?  Most people probably would.

Now, imagine that someone came along, someone that you had heard was a great prophet, a miracle worker, maybe even the Son of God.  You and your leper friends ask him, "Master, have mercy on us."  And he does.  He heals you.  Now, of course you are happy.  Hooray, this horrible disease is gone!  After being checked by the kohen (the person in Judaic law who verifies that you are now "clean"), you can go back to having a regular life!  But...for nine of the ten, there may not have been much beyond that.  By this, I mean, there was very little gratitude, because they didn't feel the healing was so much a blessing as it was getting back the life they 'should have had in the first place.'  For them, the gratitude at being healed was so small that they didn't even thank the Savior for it.  They were in a hurry to get back to the life they 'should have had.'  With that kind of attitude, it is not hard to imagine that there may have quickly been resentment as well.  Resentment at the years lost to the disease.  Resentment at the laws and people who treated you so poorly while you were sick.  Resentment toward the God who had allowed -- maybe even caused -- you to get sick in the first place.

But for that one leper, the one who was grateful and came back to thank Jesus, had a different attitude.  Instead of focusing on what he had lost, or what had been taken from him, he recognized the incredible blessing of being cured.  He knew that the vast majority of those afflicted with leprosy were NEVER cured.  He recognized the love and the power that had healed him.  Instead of "why me?" he may have said, "why not me?" to the affliction.  He recognized that he had been a rare witness, even beneficiary, of an amazing miracle.  And especially since he was a Samaritan, which was an outcast/enemy to the Jewish people anyway, he perhaps felt the gratitude more profoundly because he had no reason to expect a miracle from a Jewish prophet.

Now we come to my point: net gain.

With those ungrateful nine, if their ungrateful attitude continues to infect them, they lose anything they could have gained as a result of their trial.  Any faith, any humility, any wisdom or understanding.  This makes not only the years of illness a waste, but taints their future as well.  Instead of going forward with the extra good traits gained from the exercise of gratitude, they not only lose the good, but quite possibly gain the resentment over what was lost to them.  By setting their own standards on what life "should" be as their foundation, rather than the Lord, they lose everything.  It is a net loss.

But the grateful man is different.  His attitude not only gives him knowledge, wisdom, humility, faith, and understanding from his trial, but the gratitude for the miracle gives him the understanding that the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ LOVES him, and because of this He HEALED him!  Making the trial a gain in his life that makes his whole life better, AND helps him with eternal life!  Though many things were taken from him during his illness, the things he gained were more valuable.  That is a net gain!

So when Christ said to the grateful man, "Thy faith hath made thee whole," I don't believe he was just talking about regaining his physical health.  All of the ten had regained that.  I think He may have meant "whole" by its other meaning -- perfect.  Instead of having so much cut out of his life by resentment and ingratitude, that man had gained enough to make up for what had been lost, and then some.  Thy faith -- believing that Christ is the foundation, and that He is good, so anything He allows to happen can be for our good, rather than letting that faith be overwhelmed by the idea that "this thing is bad, therefore either God is bad or mean or doesn't exist because this bad thing happened to me" -- is what made that grateful man whole.