This last weekend I visited Toronto for my friend's wedding. (Shout out to Andrew and Grace Botres!) During my time there, I met with several of my friends, including Tina Pitamber who writes for TMC.
During our conversation, Tina said something that struck me. We were talking about life and ministry and how the impact of Covid has ravaged many churches in the Greater Toronto Area. In fact, almost every ministry leader I met up with over the weekend was going through some phase of transition. That's when Tina said something along the lines of, "Isn't it interesting how God seems to work in those areas of our lives that we take for granted?"
I've thought about that thought several times since our conversation. As someone who is always thinking about the future, I'll have to admit I've had my mind set on the "next thing" for quite some time. Will Janan and I remain in Idaho? Will we return to Toronto and work in a church? Should I get back into a "full-time" ministry role? It's not as if these questions are wrong to ask. But I've also become all too aware that it's easy to ask God to "open up the right doors" while taking for granted all the blessings and ways he is working.
On my flight back to Boise on Monday, I made a list of the many blessings I have. Here are a few of them:
In a society with a 50% divorce rate, I have an amazing wife and three kids that I love to be around.
In a world where many would long to live in a nation such as the US or Canada, I have dual citizenship in both countries.
While 10% of the world live on less than $2 a day, I have Amazon that delivers packages straight to my door.
While many only dream of writing, I do it for a living.
Despite all these blessings, I often take them for granted. Take for example the podcast David Hartkopf and I host every week. Despite often having people come up and tell me they listen, I rarely think of the impact it makes. Sure, I see the numbers of downloads going up and to the right, but in my mind, it's not that big of a deal because after all, it's not as if we're making a living off of what we do!
Writing? Sure, I'm glad my books have helped others, but it's not as if I'm a New York Times bestselling author.
A wonderful wife and kids? Yes, they are great, but let me tell you about all the ways my life is restricted now that I have these "obligations."
This is the way I think. It's the way I've always thought. Truthfully, and I'm being a bit vulnerable here, there hasn't been one thing I've done in my life that I've thought of as being significant. In my mind, everyone else is always doing the "cool stuff" and I'm stuck doing the mundane.
Honestly, it's a terrible mindset to have and one I've been convicted of by my wife and others like Tina time and time again.
Sometimes, I think my griping is a bit like hearing a fit person complain about being 2 lbs overweight. The reality is I have so much to be grateful for and so many reasons to praise God.
And so do you.
If you're like me, you're probably tempted to think of your life as less than extraordinary. You grumble to friends about the state of your car when many in the world would give anything to own yours. You gripe about rising interest rates on your home, failing to consider those who are homeless. Maybe you lament the decisions of the political leaders in Canada or the US, all the while taking no thought of your fellow Christians who live in persecuted areas around the globe.
Everybody else always has it better than you.
So how do you break free of this mindset? Here are a few choices I have found helpful.
My wife Janan started this practice several years ago after reading Ann Voskamp's 1,000 Gifts. It's a practice she has found very helpful, and any time I'm feeling ungrateful, I follow her lead and start my own list.
If you're like me and you easily devolve into the habit of thinking others always have it better, you need to seriously check your heart and watch the way you speak around others. Just as you wouldn't appreciate a billionaire grumbling to you about their financial woes, so you should be careful to watch the ways you minimize your blessings in the eyes of others. It devalues others who have less than you, it makes you look entitled, and above all, it is an offense to all God has done for you.
Don't be like the children of Israel that grumbled in the wilderness. Instead, verbalize your praise to God all throughout the day. Thank him for running water, praise him for friends, and worship him as you enjoy the warmth of a cozy home.
When you sit down with someone who has real needs, it won't take long before you sense a reality check. You'll stop complaining about your fussy healthy kids when you spend time with your friend who has a child struggling with a terminal illness. You'll be less likely to complain about your crummy job when you talk to your buddy that was just laid off.
This past week, I attended The Peoples Church in Toronto and one of their speakers, Sandra Ryan, talked about how those in persecuted regions of the globe often with such a sense of gratitude. There is much we can learn from Christians who suffer persecution. If you need some help priming the pump in this area, check out this latest podcast episode David and I recorded with Hannah Nation on how persecuted Chinese Christians respond when their basic freedoms are taken away. I promise you it will serve as a reality check and challenge you to think differently about all the blessings you have.