Clear skin

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross.

He was going through the border region between Samaria and Galilee when he was met by ten men with leprosy. They called out to Jesus, “Have pity on us!” Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, and while they were on their way, their leprosy was healed.

One of the men, a Samaritan, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus and threw himself at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.   

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked.

My guess is that when you have a horrible skin disease like leprosy, the differences between people, like the ethnic and religious differences between Samaritans and Jews, seem pretty minor. But take away the disease, and the underlying differences emerge. Hence, only the ethnic minority, the hated Samaritan, was grateful.

One out of ten.

We live in a culture which says, from morning to night, “You deserve it.” It’s the air we breathe. So, when something good happens to us, we think we’re just getting what we’re owed. We don’t even recognize the blessing.

Jesus told the Samaritan, “Rise and go; your faith has made you whole.”

Do you see?

All ten had been cleansed, but only the grateful one was made whole.

The irony is that we, like the nine ungrateful ones, live with a fraction of the blessing that’s available to us. We go through life like practical lepers.

We’re one-tenth as grateful (probably more like one-hundredth) as we ought to be.

Jesus came to make us whole. We settle for clear skin.

Practicing thanks

Years ago, when I was in the Air Force stationed in Washington DC, I had a secretary named Pat. To say that Pat had a hard life was an understatement. Pat was a breast cancer survivor. One of her children had been murdered. She lived in a dangerous part of the city, and nearly every week she came to work with a new story about a relative who’d been a victim of a violent crime.

But when you asked Pat how she was doing, she always said, “I’m blessed.”

I’m sure she meant it, but saying, “I’m blessed” also had the effect of reminding herself, and teaching us, that there is a greater power at work in our lives which transcends our circumstances.

For years, there’s been a growing body of research that has tied an attitude of gratitude with improved emotional and physical well-being. When we give thanks, our breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure go down. People who are routinely thankful are more successful and better able to navigate life.

Giving thanks is actually good for us.

I just read the summary of a Harvard study in which subjects took five minutes a day, every day at the same time, for one week, to write down three things that they were thankful for. They didn’t have to be big things, but they did have to be concrete and specific. “I’m thankful my boss gave me a compliment today.” “I thankful my daughter gave me a hug.” “I’m thankful for the delicious takeout meal last night.” Simple things like that.

A month later, the researchers found that those who practiced gratitude—including those who stopped the exercise after one week—were happier and less depressed.

After three months, they still were more joyful and content.

After six months they still were happier, less anxious, and less depressed.

The simple practice of writing down three thanksgivings a day over the course of one week apparently primed the participants’ minds to search for the good in their lives.

Always give thanks.

Keep in practice.