A while ago now I bought a small Monkey Puzzle tree in a pot, for Mark. We like Monkey Puzzle trees and, although we know they are slow growing, we were looking forward to it becoming a beautiful tree. We replanted it first of all, into a very large pot, to give its roots plenty of room to grow and become established and then, when it didn’t seem to be gaining much height, we put it into the ground with much care and lots of good compost.
It did grow then, mainly outwards. Time went on and it still didn’t gain height. We realized, on examination, (not easy, they are very prickly) that it had more than one main trunk. It was in fact a ‘Monkey Puzzle bush’. I know! That’s strange isn’t it? So while admiring other Monkey Puzzle trees for their impressive height and elegance, I have been walking past our tree day by day wondering if, and when, it will grow tall and strong. Rather disappointedly, I have been slowly coming to terms with the realisation that this bush, is not what I had hoped for.
This morning however as I stepped outside and walked past it, the sun was catching the fresh green of the new growth on it, (which always seems to be out sideways!!) and it actually looked really stunning. Not what I had originally bargained for but unexpectedly beautiful in its own way. It was then that I felt one of those ‘whispers’ from God. “If you will give me thanks, even when things aren’t what you think they should be, you will ‘see’ things through My eyes and recognise what I am doing, sometimes in ways that you don’t expect .” I felt that the Lord was encouraging me not to be too rigid in my expectations, He was saying, in effect, stay flexible in how you look at things, let Me show you how I see things, or you may miss the wood for the trees.
Now we all know how easy it is to miss a turning in the road because a landmark building has been taken down, or there’s a new road layout that doesn’t take us past the usual visual clues that tell us where we are. Likewise if our mental picture of what something should look like is not flexible we will be discontent and miss some real blessings, and even worse, if it’s about another person, we may well rob another of our honour and esteem.
I am thinking here of the poor minister who comes to a church, and because he or she doesn’t fit the frame that the members of that church have for him or her, they can feel criticised, or just not what is wanted. If that leads to discouragement, they may well become less fruitful in their ministry. At the same time the church members may never get to enjoy the benefits of what the minister does have to offer, or experience the joy of him/her blossoming in his/her particular gifting.
We can all see how hard and sad that is, but I am thinking that this can actually happen in our lives, in all sorts of ways and with all sorts of people and situations. Where we have a set idea of how something should be or how it should look, we can be focusing on what something isn’t and miss what it is, or could be for us. As with me and our tree, focusing on what something or someone isn’t; on how someone or something doesn’t fit our expectations, can prevent us from seeing what is there, what is beautiful and what is a blessing.
Giving thanks for people, places, and events of all sorts, keeps us flexible in our thinking and expectations. Thanksgiving helps us to better see what ‘is’ and be less preoccupied with what ‘isn’t’. I think this may be another angle on the advice Paul gave to the Philippians, ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.’ Philippians 4:8.
I can think of no better way to keep my mind focused on those ‘excellent and praiseworthy’ kinds of things, and away from awareness of lack or disappointment, than giving thanks. It’s a powerful way to keep our minds flexible and open to all that the Lord has for us in a situation, or in a friendship or a relationship. Having a heart full of gratitude helps me to have the right glasses on as I travel through life, and helps me to not miss out on those hidden blessings – like trees that are actually bushes, but are nevertheless very beautiful.
Thanksgiving helps me not to get too narrow and inflexible, and it helps me to share God’s big heart and amazing perspective on all kinds of things, after all ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. Psalm 24:1.