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November 21, 2012

MAY: Remember to say thanks

The holidays tug us along a road of gratitude, first setting aside a special day for us to remember to be thankful and then offering us several occasions to receive gifts for which to be thankful. Only a Scrooge could wander through the season without giving pause about the people and things for which to be thankful.

Recent studies, though, are indicating that we should do more than just pause. Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California Davis, in his groundbreaking book, “The Psychology of Gratitude,” challenges us to write down our notes of thanksgiving. He believes that the act of writing allows us to see the meaning of events going on and reaffirm them in our lives.

The idea is certainly catching on. Social networks allow us to “tweet” messages of thanks or to “like” certain things, this generation’s avenue of thanksgiving. At the online gratitude community, thankfulfor.com, people are given a 24/7 opportunity to express thanks.

What do people write about most in their gratitude journals? While there are plenty of posts like, “I am thankful for Bud Light,” material things ranked below people, relationships and experiences. In fact, jobs and money were listed ninth out of the top 10.

There is an interesting series of events in the life of Jesus that may indicate that writing words still falls short of how we need to express thankfulness. You probably know the story. As Jesus was walking from Galilee to Jerusalem — roughly like traveling from Kokomo to New Albany — he passed through a remote area that housed a leper colony. From a distance, 10 men cried out to Jesus, begging him to show them mercy. Jesus called back for them to go to the synagogue in a nearby village.

Asking them to show themselves to the priests was not an arbitrary condition imposed by Jesus. Such a presentation would be necessary for the men to be allowed to return to normal life. The Bible records that as they were on their way to the synagogue, the 10 were healed.

I have no doubt in my mind that 10 men were overwhelmed with thankfulness that day some 2,000 years ago. Some dutifully went straight to the priest to perform religious and social requirements. Some probably ran home and found family and friends first. Swarms of people filled the dusty streets. Parties were thrown. Friends gathered. Families reunited. Shouts of joy and gratitude were heard for miles … and for days.

But one man immediately ran back to Jesus, fell at his feet, and expressed words of thanks for the miraculous gift that he had so graciously been given.

“I am not sure what to say, but I am compelled to try. How can I say ‘Thanks’ for giving me back my family and friends, my hopes and dreams, my life? What could I ever say or do to let you know how grateful I am for what you have done for me?”

“Weren’t there ten who were healed?” The man nodded, somewhat sheepishly. “Weren’t there 10 who were thankful?” It isn’t out of the question to think that distant sounds of celebration could be heard as a reply. “Where are the other nine?” Busy. Consumed. Partying. Gleeful. Photos and Facebook posts to follow.

This year, you be the one.

  — Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.

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