This past Sunday night at El Crucero, in preparation for Thanksgiving, all of our small groups were doing lessons on thankfulness. My husband, Cliff, began his lesson by asking the boys in his group what “gratitude” means. After a bit of head-scratching, one boy spoke up: “You mean like longitude and gratitude?”
Cliff and I chuckled over this story on the way home, but the phrase has stayed with me all week.
Longitude and gratitude. Wonderful analogies spring to mind: the impact of gratitude on our horizontal and vertical relationships, the value of gratitude as a navigational tool in our journey through life, gratitude as a to-be-desired destination….
Instead of heading down any of these paths, though, I think I’ll simply replay a snippet of my small group time with the 3rd/4th/5th grade girls last weekend:
My nine girls and I begin the night by reading a short passage in Luke about 10 lepers (17:11-19). As usual, the girls go around the circle, each reading a verse out loud until we have finished the passage.
While they are reading, volunteers keep coming in and out of the room bringing in the night’s snack—pie and milk—so there is a fair amount of commotion. We reach the end of the passage and no one seems to be able to tell me what we’ve just read, so I stand up on a chair to enact it for them.
“Does anyone remember what leprosy is?” I ask.
I pause until someone gives me an answer and then I continue: “Yes, it’s a horrible skin disease. Let’s pretend I’ve got this skin disease. Some of my fingers have fallen off. I’ve got terrible sores everywhere. You believe I am contagious.”
I hold out my hand to the girl beside me and ask, “”Do you want me to touch you?”
I look around the room.
“Do you want me to live next to you? Go to school with you? Ride the bus with you?”
Collectively the girls respond to each question, “No!”
“Well, the people who lived at this time in history didn’t want to catch the disease either, so they made everyone with leprosy leave the city.”
My girls are visibly surprised by this.
“So, I’ve had to leave my family. I can’t go to school. I’m living outside the city gate. No one wants to come near me. I’m lonely! And I’m sick. So when I see Jesus passing by I cry out to him: HAVE PITY ON ME! HELP ME!”
I loudly call out these last six words, not only trying to demonstrate the lepers’ desperation, but trying to hold onto my girls’ easily-lost attention.
“Now, what does Jesus tell me to do?”
“Go to the priest,” answers Yorleni after a pause.
“Yes! He tells me to go to the priest. I’m not well yet, but I do what he says. I obey him. Then what? What happens to me and the 9 other lepers?”
Fingers quickly search the page. “They are healed.”
“Yes! They are healed while they are on their way to the priest. When this happens, one of the men does something different than the rest. What does he do?”
Another pause and Alma declares: “He goes back to thank Jesus.”
Here I step down from the chair, walk to the end of the long table and kneel down.
“Jesus! Thank you!”
My voice begins to crack, “Thank you for making me well! Thank you, thank you!”
My eyes begin to fill and the words I’m saying become powerfully real to me: “I can go home again! I can see my family again. THANK YOU!”
By the time I finish this short speech, I am crying. I look over at the table full of astonished faces, and I am as surprised by my crying as they are.
I try to steady my voice as I return to my chair, “Only one of the men turned back. The rest were happy to be healed, too, but they were so focused on what they had been given that they never stopped to think about the one who had healed them. They never thought to tell Jesus thank you.”
I notice that Jakeline is gently nodding her head in agreement with me. Her eyes are glassy, reflecting my own.
As I sit down, Yoselin enthusiastically declares, “Wow, Ms. Brooke. You are a really good actress. You looked like you were really crying.”
“That wasn’t acting, Yoselin. I really was crying.”
What I don’t know how to share with my girls, what I have a difficult time putting into words is how deeply I feel such stories of restoration. With a single act of healing, Jesus restored this man’s health, his family, and his community; and, most amazingly of all, declared him right with God.
Just as beautifully, Jesus restores my broken relationships. He places me in community (El Crucero, for one). He reconciles me to God. How infrequently my heart and mouth give thanks.
Longitude and Gratitude. I’ve decided it must be that joy-filled point of intersection where we recognize and appreciate what God has done for us.