I've been thinking a lot recently about gratitude and how it relates to sin and how I think and feel about what I've been given. Lutherans often use the Latin se incurvatus en se to talk about sin (self curved in on self), which I find terribly useful. You cannot serve the neighbor while curved in on self. You cannot be God focused when turned in on self and I would argue that you cannot be grateful when you are turned in on self (I'm a bit of an expert, so trust me on this). Here's an example: Genesis chapter 2-
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Diane Jacobson, my Hebrew Bible professor here who I have known for years and greatly admire, had us read this and then asked us "What do you think of God in this text?" The answers were predictable "He set him up", "If God didn't want him to eat of that tree, why put it in the garden at all?" etc... Then she goes on to say that she's done this exercise for over 20 years with students with the same result, but that maybe one in a hundred would say "God gave Adam every tree...a beautiful garden to meet all Adam's needs, God is good". My friend Rob then commented that studies have shown that children, when placed in a room full of amazing new toys and told they can play with any toy except, say, the one red ball (not even the "best" toy by any means), they will predictably ignore all the toys at their disposal and be miserable about the one toy that they cannot have, even as far as calling the researchers "mean". And some people don't believe in original sin! If sin is se incurvatus en se, it feels pretty hardwired from the start, which is to say, "original".
In other words, we cannot see the garden - only the tree. This is so very true for me. While here at Luther I have been struggling to acknowledge what I'm giving up to be here but then choose to focus on what I can get out of the experience. Ultimately I am not honoring my family and community back in Denver more by being miserable here and ignoring the academic and theological opportunities. I am just squandering what I have been given. This all feels very related to stewardship, an idea that reaches into everything that we have been given - bodies, relationships, family, work, money, natural resources etc. If, for example, I am always focused on the things that I perceive are lacking in my husband or friend or sibling then I am squandering the gifts from God that they bring to my life. Squandering can be a result of basic ingratitude. Now this is of course not to say "hey, don't choose to focus on the fact that your boyfriend beats you, think of what a great omelet he makes". Only that I realize that the people who seem the happiest to me are not the ones who happen to have gotten everything they have desired, but those who are grateful. This is no philosophical discovery of course, but very old wisdom:
Ecclesiastes chapter 5:
10 The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
In our culture where we are told "we are worth it": worth spending all our accumulated wealth on ourselves in retirement, worth re-marrying several times until we get the right spouse, worth every self-improvement strategy, worth getting a pedicure from Vietnamese woman with chemical pneumonia, I can't help but wonder "really?". And don't let me fool you I am SO lulled into all of it, but I wonder how can we as followers of Jesus start to think counter-culturally about these things? Maybe I'm worth having a relationship which is mutually self-giving, maybe I'm worth giving away more that 10% of my income, maybe I'm worth experiencing the freedom of less, maybe I'm worth a retirement based on relationship and not wealth. I'm hoping this new community that I'm part of starting will ask these questions with me and together we can think and live radically....in the way of Jesus.
Forgive me for squandering your precious gifts and buying so completely into the lies of happiness-through-consumption of stuff and folks. Show me my real worth and give me eyes to perceive value through your economy of mercy. Any change of heart is gonna have to come through you because I (of course) tried doing it myself first and apparently that doesn't work.
In Jesus' name,