The Gift of Gratitude

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Sheila could not believe her misfortune. It was the day before her 40th birthday and she’d just lost her job. When she arrived at work that morning, before she even got to her desk, her boss called her into the large conference room. It was an unexpected meeting on a Friday. Sheila thought it was the annual birthday surprise the company always did for each employee. 

Every year, they tried to figure out creative ways to surprise each person. Eventually, unless the person forgot their birthday, it was not about the surprise as much as it was about the thoughtfulness. They were all given the same gift, a $100 American Express gift card and their favorite treat. For Sheila, that was a red velvet cupcake from the best bakery in town. After ten years at the company, she’d come to expect and welcome the “surprise.” 

That morning, when everyone in the room was handed an envelope, Sheila didn’t expect to find a layoff notice. They sat quietly as their boss explained how the CEO and CFO had mismanaged money to include embezzlement and several other crimes. While they were in the boardroom, the FBI had seized all their equipment, files, and anything company-related. When Sheila got back to her desk the only thing left was her plant, an employee award she received, and a photo of her from her last vacation. After a decade of service, she would receive nothing. There was nothing to give her. Even her 401K was worthless since a lot of it was filled with the worthless shares of her company. 

As she sat in her car in the employee garage, she could think of nothing. She was in shock. She really didn’t expect to spend her annual birthday vacation looking for a job. Fortunately, it was payday and she’d confirmed that her last paycheck was in the bank. She did have some personal savings, but she still needed a job as soon as possible. She tried not to cry in the middle of the parking lot, but she couldn’t help it. The tears came fast and heavy. She kept crying and crying until she lost track of time. She was so exhausted that she eventually fell asleep.

The knock on her window was the last thing she expected. The garage was darker and there were only a few cars around her. She couldn’t believe that she’d slept that long. The night parking attendant was knocking on her door. Standing next to him was the night custodian. Both looked worried. Sheila realized that they thought she might have been dead. She woke up completely, opened her car door, and stepped out to assure them that she was okay. 

She explained to them what happened. They had not been told yet. Maria wondered what her new assignment would be with her cleaning company. She also wondered how she was going to pay rent and put food on the table for her family this month if she didn’t get a new job on Monday. Greg, the parking attendant, was also worried because Sheila’s former company was their biggest client. He and his brother had just started out in this business and, they would be losing 250 renters. They both had families to consider. Would they be able to make that up in time to keep things going? 

As Sheila listened to her colleagues, she realized that she had no one to worry about but herself. She had savings for at least three months. Plus, she would still get to go on her vacation. She still had student loan debt and a mortgage to consider, but she knew that she would be just fine. The self-pity she was feeling was unnecessary. 

Instead of pity, she should be feeling gratitude. This wasn’t the first time she’d been in this situation. The first time, she was young and naïve. She had no savings and no plan. This time, she was prepared. She also had a plan that she’d been considering for the last two years. She would strike out on her own. It was time to start her own business. Having been in the financial world for a long time, she realized that many times the innocent and the least prepared people suffered the most when rich people got greedy. She wanted to make a difference and change that. Standing before her were her first two clients. Without hesitation, she asked how she could serve them. 

That’s when Sheila felt the shift inside. Her self-pity had shifted to gratitude then to service. Maria and Greg also felt the shift and they wanted to make a difference as well. Maria thought of how she could help her co-workers, who were hourly workers like her. Greg thought of small business owners. They all tackled the problem from different angles. By the early morning hours, they had sketched out a plan for a social entrepreneurship that would combine for-profit products with free financial services for people in transition due to layoffs and other financial disasters. 

As they parted ways with their first planning meeting scheduled, they smiled. Maria said, “But God.” Greg said, “God is good.” Sheila said, “All the time.” They all chimed together, “God is good.” Three strangers brought together by big challenge found a mission. 

Now it’s our turn…

Life can be challenging, but God is indeed good. When life throws us curve balls, it’s easy to linger in self-pity. As believers, we are called to respond differently. Gratitude is one of the responses that always leads the way. Remembering what God has done reminds us that God always provides. The provision is often a plan. The plan is often to serve. Serving usually leads to more gratitude. It’s a cycle that keeps on giving. 

Prompt for Thought: What challenge are you facing right now? The challenge need not be dramatic to be important to God. How is God leading you? What plan is God offering you? How can you move pass fear and walk in in faith? How can gratitude help you make the shift? 

Prayer for the Journey: God, life can be challenging sometimes. Things unexpected happen. Yet, we know that you are always there for us. Help us to see you in every challenge we face. Help us to trust you as we work the plan you’ve given us. Help us to have faith in God and to always be filled with gratitude. In Jesus’ name. Amen.