As a kid, it seemed like every Thanksgiving, our teachers would show us students how to trace our hands and draw a turkey. When we were finished, we’d sit in a circle, proudly hold-up our drawings and then name something for which we were thankful. Almost always we gave answers like a new hockey stick or a bike or a big Thanksgiving dinner. All good stuff to a kid, of course, but just “stuff” none the less. And even though our Thanksgiving list sometimes sounded a lot like the previous year’s Christmas wish-list every one of us had something we were thankful for. Everyone except Brian.
Brian was one of my closest friends. He was very poor. Even a little sad. “Poor in spirit,” some might say. I lived in a lovely two floor house; he lived in a two bedroom apartment. I had two loving parents and two great older brothers; his parents were divorced and, tragically, his oldest brother was killed in a car accident. I remember the story of the accident plastered across the front page of our local newspaper, complete with a photo of Brian’s brother pinned inside the car. Brian’s personal family tragedy was publically laid-out for the whole community to see and talk about.
One cold, wintery day, Brian showed-up at school wearing short-pants and runners. And while he had a coat, he didn’t have any gloves or boots. After school, I brought him home to my house to get him some winter clothes. By comparison to Brian, I felt like one of the richest kids in the neighborhood.
It’s funny, though, at Thanksgiving when we went around the circle presenting our chubby, hand-shaped turkeys, Brian never mentioned being thankful for toys or bikes or anything like that. Instead, he always said, “I’m thankful for my dad” or “I’m thankful for my friends.” As a kid, I thought he was just saying those things because he didn’t have a lot of “stuff.” But as an adult, I get it. For Brian, Thanksgiving was less about the what and more about the who and the why of our thankfulness.
In his financial and spiritual poverty, Brian knew early what often takes a lifetime for many of us to learn: the heart of gratitude is shaped most wonderfully, not by the things of our lives but, by our precious relationships and the love that is revealed within and through each one of them. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus, “for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Imagine that.
May God bless us all with enough spiritual poverty to have a heart shaped like Brian’s, a heart filled with true gratitude.
Dr. Mark Giuliano, Pastor
The Old Stone Church, Cleveland