A pervailing notion is that suffering and gratitude cannot co-exist. According to this way of thinking, gratefulness and suffering exist in a type of zero-sum relationship, so that once our sufferings reach a certain level of intensity it squeezes out any possibility of genuine gratitude.
A book that debunks this notion is Viktor Frankl’s work Man’s Search For Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944 because of his Jewish pedigree. After being released, Frankl described his three years in the concentration camps in Man’s Search For Meaning. The book does not make for comfortable reading since Frankl chronicles the torments of mind, body and spirit that he and the other prisoners had to endure. But what intrigued me was when Frankl eloquently described how suffering enabled him and the other prisoners to understand what was truly important in life, and thus to be grateful for things that the rest of us take for granted.
In my earlier blog post ‘Studies Link Facebook With Social Comparison and Depression‘, I shared the report on two fascinating studies published last October in the ‘Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.’ These studies showed a correlation between Facebook use and the tendency to compare ourselves to others and thus become depressed. A new but related study was published in April this year, again in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. This study focused on the role social media plays in fomenting envy in our hearts.
These two videos of Nick Vujicic are really inspiring. He is a man born without any limbs (no arms, no legs), yet he has trained his mind to exist in a constant state of gratefulness through focusing on the blessings he does have. He has an amazing ministry as an evangelist and motivational speaker, constantly reminding people to focus on the things they can be grateful for.
Often when people say “Count your blessings” it sounds kind of Hallmarky and sentimental, but when Nick gives this message it has substance because he really knows what it means to suffer (he tried to commit suicide at age 10) while still rising above suffering by being grateful to God.
His message is particularly relevant with Thanksgiving approaching. Every year at Thanksgiving many families have a tradition of giving each person a turn to put a piece of corn in a basket and saying something they’re grateful for. Often someone will say they’re thankful for an ordinary thing we take for granted, like air, or arms or life itself, and when someone says this it is usually interpreted as a joke, or assumed to be something the person thought of at the last moment because they couldn’t think of anything else. But if Nick Vujicic is correct, these are precisely the types of things we ought to be thankful for all the time. It’s easy to be grateful for the out-of-the-ordinary blessings God sends our way; but the real test of gratefulness is whether we can be thankful for the ordinary things in life that most of us take for granted, like limbs. Watch these amazing videos and pass them on to a friend.
With the holiday of Thanksgiving approaching, I want to recommend a hard-hitting podcast that Father George Morelli did for Ancient Faith Radio in 2007. In this short talk, Father George draws us back to the true meaning of thanksgiving. It relates to the theme of gratefulness that I’ve been exploring recently on this blog. To listen to the podcast, click on the link below:
Each of us has the power to bring meaning and purpose to our life by how we interpret the circumstances that confront us. The act of interpreting our experience in either positive or negative terms is called “framing.” The same set of circumstances that might be perceived by one person as depressing and discouraging set-backs (“the glass is half empty” mentality), might be perceived by another person as being challenging opportunities to grow through and overcome (“the glass is half full” mentality). In the former case, the person is framing their experience negatively; in the latter case the person is framing their experience positively. The difference between these two perspectives is not in the experiences themselves, but the narratives we tell ourselves about our experiences.
Among my circle of friends, I’m always the last one to find out the news. Why? Because I don’t read Facebook. Anyone who is a “friend” of mine on Facebook may find that hard to believe, given how active I appear to be. But my Facebook activity is rather like C.S. Lewis’s relation to the newspaper: the fact that Lewis never read the newspaper didn’t stop him from publishing articles in it. I mainly use Facebook narcissistically to encourage people to read about the latest things I’m thinking about (ironically, I’ll probably post this article on Facebook), and to promote my articles so I can earn more money. I’ve felt bad about this, and sometimes think I should spend more time “reading the news feeds” to give other people more attention. But after finding out about some studies last year, I’m no longer going to feel guilty for not spending hours and hours on Facebook like my friends do.
The studies, published last in the ‘Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,’ showed that time spent on Facebook correlated with depressive symptoms for both men and women. The article, which you can download as a PDF here, tells how it wasn’t just ordinary Facebook viewing that was linked to depression, but Facebook viewing in which social comparisons took place. “Social comparisons occur when people automatically contrast themselves with others on abilities or attributes they deem important.” This type of comparison often happens on an unconscious level that we are not aware of until it’s pointed out to us.
(I wrote the following post a few days before the tragedy in Paris, which is timely in light of what I said about the safety of our middle-class homes. The thought-experiments that pacifists normally avoid (see below) are no longer simply thought experiments, but realities we are having to deal with close to home. When commenting about this post on Facebook after the Paris tragedy, I observed “I am never going to be a fighter. I want my boys to learn self-defense, but I have little interest in personally learning to fight. Moreover, I am scared of guns and chain saws. But I am not a pacifist because I admire and support the warriors who are fighting against ISIS to keep the rest of us safe. And I pray for their victory.”)
In this post I wish to explain my thoughts on why Christians shouldn’t be pacifists. I might be wrong, and welcome feedback, but this post represents my thinking at the moment.
On the outset I need to make clear that the rejection of pacifism does not equate to a rejection of principled non-violence in certain situations. Christians should be willing to practice non-violence in some situations, such as when facing martyrdom, while also being willing to engage in acts of homicide in other situations, such as when defending innocent life.
In my Colson Center article ‘The Meaning of the Gospel‘, I have suggested that it is a mistake to use the phrase “the Gospel” as little more than a short-hand for the message of personal salvation. Scripture shows that “the Gospel” referred to much more than simply Jesus coming to offer a system of personal salvation. Although the Good News certainly includes that, in its original context the Gospel was the announcement that Jesus is Lord, that His Kingdom is being established on the earth. The ramifications of this broad understanding of the gospel (which is simply the scriptural understanding) are widespread and significant. To read my observations about this, click on the link below: