The Color of Gratitude

If you wouldn’t mind actually, can you pray for my friend Leland? Last week Leland was fly fishing. As he drew back his fishing rod the wind suddenly caught the fishing line and his fish hook whipped towards him and sunk straight into the centre of his pupil. And as if that wasn’t bad enough the fish hook was barbed. A barbed fish hook sunk bulls-eye into a human eye . . . let’s just say I don’t need to see you cringing to know you’re cringing. Leland is currently out of the hospital but now that the high from the pain killers and well-wishes from family and friends have worn off, he’s dealing with the stark reality that he might not regain sight in his right eye. If the eye doesn’t heal properly he may never be allowed to drive again. At the end of a recent email updating us on how he was doing, Leland wrote: “Hope this message finds you grateful for who you are and what you have.” Grateful.

I’m coming to believe gratitude is a true life-changer. My gratitude began to really take off when I moved to Saudi Arabia two years ago to work as a teacher. For starters, I’m from Canada where there is a lot of green. Now I live in Saudi Arabia where there is a lot of … not green. When you live in the middle of the desert, beige isn’t just the new green, it’s the new everything. You can’t imagine how grateful I now am to come from a country where green things grow. When I lived in Canada green was a given, now it’s a gift.

My gratitude for my Canadian citizenship and education grew when I saw the many expatriate workers who come from other countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or Nepal to earn more money in Saudi Arabia. And yet they still earn so much less than I do. When I lived in Canada my job and salary was a given, now it’s a gift.

And I have to say, it feels different when I read about another bomb killing fifty-three people in Iraq now that I am living in a country that borders that chaos rather than living in a country across the Atlantic Ocean. Let me be clear: I’m not suffering at all because of what is happening in Iraq (or Syria). But there is something to be said about proximity; to a smaller degree you more easily understand “that could be me” the closer you are to the violence. And that small degree will change you. When I lived in Canada peace was a given, now it’s a gift.

Can I be honest with you? I don’t really enjoy living in Saudi Arabia, but there is one undeniable benefit that has taken place within me as a result of living here: my gratitude has skyrocketed through the roof compared to what it was before.

I’m fascinated with colors because the way we see colors is a complete paradox. A quick explanation: white light contains all the colors of the color spectrum (which, incidentally, makes Jesus’ statement “I am the light of the world” pretty darn cool!) When light comes in contact with an object, all of the colors within the light are absorbed by the object—all of the colors expect one. The color that isn’t absorbed reflects off the object and shoots into our eye and that’s the color we see. So in truth, that “red apple” you ate for lunch today wasn’t red at all, in fact, it was every color except red. Basically, you ate an anti-red apple. Do you see the paradox of how we see color? The colors we see aren’t the colors an object is holding onto, but the colors an object is letting go of and reflecting out into the world.

All of this color science makes me think of gratitude. I’m going to venture a guess and say one of the reasons we aren’t more grateful than we should be is because we, consciously or subconsciously, believe we are in control (or worse, the source) of the gifts God has given us.

And so in our self-deception we mistakenly label something as a “given” of life when it is actually an amazing gift we receive each day that, for all we know, might not be around tomorrow. As Leland has recently discovered, our eyesight is a gift, not a given. And sometimes it takes a barbed fish hook to sink through the middle of our pupil for us to see the truth: that we aren’t in control of the many gifts God gives us.

The irony of those things we often call “givens” is that we so easily forget they are exactly that: given. When I say thank you to God, or someone else, in essence I am saying, “This thing didn’t come from me. It came from someone else and it’s now being given to me.” Gratitude is a reminder that we don’t control the gifts God has given us. We are stewards, not owners.

I don’t think God wants us to beat ourselves up because we aren’t as grateful as we should be. I don’t believe he wants us to paw the ground with our feet in bashful silence for being wealthier than ninety-eight percent of the world’s population (and if you are able to read this, you most likely are). And I don’t imagine God wants us to feel guilty because we don’t live within a war-torn country. I think he wants us to be grateful, and then act on that gratitude. We won’t all respond in the same way, but he has taught us and will teach us how to color this world with the beauty and supremacy of his love.

I have a feeling that coloring begins with gratitude, and gratitude begins with restored sight. Jesus has a habit of first blinding people (with mud or barbed fish hooks) before their vision is restored. The restoration isn’t always a physical vision, but a vision that sees the truth about our relationship with the gifts of God and the God of gifts: that we control neither. Because the colors we see aren’t the colors an object is holding onto, but the colors an object is letting go of and reflecting out into the world. May the same be true for how we respond to all the gifts God has given us.