Sowing and Reaping Articles

Grace, Goodness And Gratitude

By Larry Guido
It was 6:30 a.m. and still very dark. I had been driving for over two hours. When I left the mountains of Western North Carolina, snow was gently falling, quietly covering the out-stretched arms of the trees and grass on the sides of the road. Now at the outer perimeter of Atlanta, the snow had changed to cold, driving rain. Traffic was hardly moving. It seemed as though no one was going anywhere.
Looking at the dashboard clock, I suddenly realized that the time I had allocated myself for the trip was quickly slipping away from me. I had less than an hour to park my car, board a bus to transport me to the airport, check-in at the airline counter, and get to the gate to board my flight. Suddenly, in the corner of my eye, I noticed flashing blue lights in my rearview mirror. Was there an accident? Someone injured? A delay for a tow truck to arrive and cars to be towed away? Further delays?
My stress level was rising. If I missed my flight, I would miss an appointment that I had scheduled at Mayo Clinic for over two months. It was time for my quarterly cancer check-up. This was my tenth trip for the surveillance portion of my treatment, and this was the only time I had encountered any traffic problems. Normally, traffic at this hour of the day was always light. My mind began to consider several options and ask many questions. How long would I have to wait for another appointment? What if the cancer had returned and a delay would impact treatment? Would I lose the money I paid for a discounted paid-in-advance reservation? Do any of these questions matter? Anxiety and stress had begun to build within me. As I looked back into the mirror and around the cars in front of me, I realized that my grip on the steering wheel had tightened, that I had curled my toes without thinking about it, and that my breathing had become irregular and shallow. I was one moment away from panic and despair.
Somehow, during this delay, my mind recalled the research of Hans Selye, M.D. I had been studying the causes and management of stress. Selye is recognized as the “Father of Stress.” Not that he “invented” stress, or discovered stress: rather, as a pathologist, he identified and recognized and classified differences in individuals who had died in various circumstances and conditions. He eventually came to a most significant conclusion. In his book, The Stress of Life, Selye stated that individuals can reduce stress by engaging in one simple behavior: expressing gratitude! Stress will not be reduced by success, or achievement or recognition or the accumulation of wealth. Gratitude? Yes, gratitude! Gratitude for traffic congestion? Driving rain? Fierce winds? Snow? Wet, dangerous freeways? Yes, gratitude. So, what I then chose to think about was what Selye had concluded: be thankful for these horrible conditions in these threatening situations because you do not know what God has in store for you! And, what I realized was amazing. When I started to express my gratitude to God for each of the horrible conditions and terrible situations, item-by-item, I realized that I had been in more dangerous situations before this one, and God’s love for me and His faithfulness to me had brought me through each one safely and more dependent on Him because of His love for and faithfulness to me!
First and foremost after recalling His love for and faithfulness to me, I thanked Him for His answers to the many prayers for me when I was diagnosed with and then treated for my cancer. In Psalm 138:1-5 we are reminded to be “thankful for answered prayers.” I would not be traveling to Mayo Clinic were it not for the countless prayers of many people I did not even know or had met. But, I was a testimony to the result of their prayers. Then I began to remember and recall many answers to our prayers as a family – simple prayers as common as a breath of air and the blink of an eye that we desperately need but never bother to think about. “Lord, keep us safe and healthy, give us this day our daily bread, help the children to do well in school, and resist temptation.” And on and on. As the list continued to grow as I expressed my gratitude nothing changed. The traffic didn’t move. The weather did not change. The clock continued to move forward as time passed. My breathing was still shallow, and I had not relaxed my grip on the steering wheel. “What’s wrong here? Were you joking with me? Playing a game with my mind, Selye? I’m still stressed!”
Then I thought of 1Thessalonians 5:16-18, where Paul called on us to “give thanks in all our circumstances.” (NLT) What, I thought? Be thankful for this mess? It certainly did not make much sense. Then I thought of my SUV with six airbags, all-wheel drive, StabiliTrak, excellent brakes, powerful lights, wipers that kept going against the rain and sleet, ventilation, comfortable seats that were heated. “Yes indeed, Lord. Thanks for this place of security in a sea of frenzy. Thank you, God, for reminding me that even in the circumstances I have a responsibility and an obligation to You to express my deepest gratitude for my safety and security. Oh, yes, and by the way, thank you for protecting my family when we were at times in harm’s way and threatened and struggling financially – you brought us through every dangerous “test” without a scratch.”
Again, Paul confronted me with another challenge when he reminded me that “our lives should be characterized by thankfulness to God.” (Colossians 3:15-17 NLT.) I wondered if someone were to follow me around for a day, no, maybe half a day, perhaps an hour, if they would be able to say, “One of Larry’s consistent behaviors is that whatever God brings into his life, he responds with an expression of thankfulness.” That might be hard. So, I prayed, “Lord, please create within me a thankful heart. I want you to help me to be constantly alert to and aware of Your gracious, bountiful, and never-ending gifts.”
I do believe that I have one thing going for me most of the time, however. I always include words of thankfulness to God in my prayers for my salvation whenever I pray. Salvation is the major event of my life (Ephesians 2:4-10). So, it is easy to remember because it is something that I could not do for myself. However, sometimes I like to give myself credit for what I think I have accomplished, rather than to recognize that everything in my life is a direct result of God’s love, mercy, and grace. “Lord, please work with me to be much more thankful. When there are events in my life that do not make sense or are unwanted, or troubling, or threatening, or cause a faith-failure, help me to keep trusting. You have proved far more times than I can recall, that when I get through “this” I will have something very special to be thankful for!”
Thank you God for speaking to me in this ‘mess’, –the traffic, the rain, the pressure of time, the fear of a negative outcome from the examination. I appreciate so much the fact that You have made me aware of my lack of having a sense of gratitude and an attitude of being thankful for everything. Everything.”
And, what about you? What will you be most thankful for today in this COVID-19 pandemic or whatever may be going on in your life. Look deep within. Be thankful for that which, right now, may not make sense or be a cause for rejoicing or thanksgiving. Trust me. Someday it will.
The flight? I arrived early enough to get a cup of Starbucks coffee and reflect on the good gifts of a gracious God. And, the results of the surveillance? I have now been free from cancer over fourteen years – and counting!


-Larry Guido