By Lloyd Ratzlaff

Nothing Wasted

“Though our outward humanity is in decay, yet day by day we are inwardly renewed. Our troubles are slight and short-lived, and their outcome is an eternal glory which outweighs them by far. Meanwhile our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen: for what is seen passes away; what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Eyes on the unseen

“I have learned to find resources in myself whatever my circumstances. I know what it is to be brought low, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have been very thoroughly initiated into the human lot with all its ups and downs” (Phil 4:10-14).

Inner resources

Despite the many things in St. Paul’s writings that trouble me or make me protest, some of his thoughts have become lifelines. In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans he traces humanity’s decline into the benightedness and debauchery we know so well within and outside ourselves, and lists unthankfulness not as a lesser evil but one of the greatest.

Always there’s occasion for gratitude. Maybe Paul was thinking about Jesus’ saying that “foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” who nonetheless at his last supper “took the cup and gave thanks.”

Gratitude cannot be mainly for things — wealth, or success, or friends. All of these can be taken from us as easily as they were given and we received them. None of them can be the cause (though they’re often the occasion) of our gratitude. Health fails, friends abandon us, and wealth may vanish overnight.

There was an old Quaker who lived in a modest house beside a mansion into which new neighbours were moving. He went to say hello, and helped them haul a few things inside, stood surveying the lavish furnishings and artworks, and said, “I’ll be going now. If there’s anything you need, come and see me and I’ll tell you how you can get along without it.”

Life itself is the motive for gratitude, life that comes from I AM and goes there when it’s done being here. God the ground and the mustard seed that grows into a shrub so great that, as Helmut Thielicke says, “a fat sparrow, who has picked hundreds of these tiny seeds for his breakfast, can teeter on its branches.”

Take the cup, give thanks. Let sparrows chirp, say thanks. Such a hard and simple calling.

Ratzlaff is the author of two books of literary non-fiction, The Crow Who Tampered With Time and Backwater Mystic Blues. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.

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