Sunday, 02 October 2011
Tonight I came across a picture on facebook that someone had posted. They tagged a lot of people in the picture and captioned it "Sometimes we need to change our perspective. Be thankful everyday." Here is the picture.
Powerful right? The picture by itself is a heart-tugger for sure. The contrast between the sizes of hands of the white adult and the black child clearly communicate a truth we often want to hide from. People are suffering. People, even little children, are starved, abused, neglected, living in filth, and so on. The picture preaches as we say in the church.
But then someone added words to the picture that say "You hate your life, whle some people dream of having your life."
People have good intentions. I like to think that people do most of what they do with those good intentions. It's hard to get mad at folks for doing foolish things out of ignorance while trying to do what they know to be right. I try to be graceful and humble in those moments because I know I'm a fool and a wreck of a human being as well. I'm sure the intentions of this person who placed these words over the picture were good. My problem is that, as good as the intentions may have been, this is a guilt trip.
I have written before about how we invest too often and too much in guilt to motivate us. Guilt should never be a motivator. It corrupts the actions it motivates us to pursue because it takes away the purity of motivation. I should care for people who are suffering and be motivated to live a life that blesses them but I shouldn't be motivated to do that because I'm convinced my life is better than theirs. I should be motivated to help the suffering because they are worthy of my love as human beings and because I am able to bless them as a human being. Not because I'm rich and healthy while they are poor and dying.
Of course a person suffering is more worthy of my aid because they are suffering but even then my motivation ought to be to love them because they are a human being and they are suffering and not because they are a human being who is suffering while I am not suffering. Even if I were also suffering I should be motivated to bless and extend love in any way I am able. This also means I ought to bless and love those who are not suffering or who are not living a life contrasted with me in significantly noticeable ways.
As stated earlier, the caption to this picture was "Sometimes we need to change our perspective. Be thankful everyday." Again, good intentions. I've seen this a lot while working with the homeless and marginalized. People will come into our world of poverty and see the contrast between their lives and the lives of those I live with and help. They walk away thinking "I have so much and they have so little. I should be more thankful." Yes, you should be more thankful. I should too. We all should. However, it always stings me a bit because while I am joyous to see people gain perspective on their life and on how greatly they have been blessed and thus how greatly they ought to give thanks to God I am hurt that they are motivated to be thankful predominantly because someone else is in a lower or worse standing than them in some fashion.
I believe God uses everything to speak to us so I want to be careful here. I also want to make sure nobody thinks I am saying that it is wrong to have one's perspective altered because of experiencing suffering they don't endure through encountering people different from them. I'm not saying that. What I am saying is that, while it is hard and while we need motivation from various places, we need to examine our current perspectives and our changes in perspectives and try to understand we we currently see things and live the way that we do.
I ought to be thankful that I eat well every single day. At the same time I should not be thankful because I eat well every single day while other people do not. I should not be thankful because I have a "better" life than someone else or even because I see I have a good life because they have a bad life. I should be thankful because I have at all, because I exist, because God is good. God is good to the suffering and the abundantly well-living, even if it is hard to see at times. Both ought to be thankful. When I was suffering I should have been more thankful. When I was making good money and had no worries I should have been more thankful. Whether I am on the streets or in a gated community I ought to be thankful.
Thankfulness built on guilt is either unhealthy or false thankfulness. It is not thankfulness for blessing but for absence of another person's curse. Then are times when our "Thank you God for what I have"s are more appropriately stated "Thank you I'm not them." That's not real love for God because it's not real love for people. It's love for possession of goods and absence of pains. If our thankfulness is not derived from our love for God and for his blessings (including people) then it's not true thankfulness. How can I be thankful that my life is not as miserable as others? Should I not mourn for them instead? That is what love does. It mourns with those who mourns and it does not simply acknowledge the worthiness of mourning and walk away thinking of self.
When we encounter people, situations, and truths that alter our perspective and remind us of what our own lives, the lives of others, and this world look like and how they intersect or may not be intersecting (when they ought to) let us not simply walk away with a changed perspective but let us examine our change of perspective and ask "Why am I more thankful today after seeing this?" If the answer is "Because they have it worse than me and i's be wrong for me to not be thankful" we're not yet where we ought to be. We've perhaps made an improvement because we've fund the ladder to climb but we still need to grab the sides and place our feet on the rungs so that we may elevate higher towards God.
Let us not be content to be guilted into thankfulness or good deeds. Let us see the truth of this world, the lives of others, and of ourselves, and then see the truth of God and how He loves us all and has been blessing us all and how he has promised to bless us int he future. Let us be thankful for who God is and not because of the contrast we see between ourselves and those less fortunate. Let our understanding and thankfulness for the truth of God spur us to loving action towards those around us be they living similar or contrasting lives and let us teach them thankfulness in a healthy way. Let us lay guilt aside, embracing the conviction that we probably aren't as thankful as we ought to be and we probably aren't as aware or loving towards others as we ought to be and then move forward, being moved by the Spirit, confident and strong in our pursuit. Guilt is a poor and weak foundation for good works. It will break beneath us. Let us learn the difference between conviction and guilt. We must find the foundation of pure thankfulness.
So may you be thankful and live well, paying attention to others and giving them the love they are worthy of as fellow human beings because you live in the knowledge of who God is and how he blesses his children and do not give into the temptation to find joy in the fact that your life appears better or more blessed than the life of someone else, for we know that there are promises for the suffering and curses for the thriving in the gospel.
Have you ever experienced thankfulness that was based on guilt? Does it feel like true thankfulness? What do you think of the image shown above? Is it just a guilt trip with good intentions?