By Steven Norris
“How are you today?”
How many times does this conversation play out in our day-to-day discourse? Too often, we fall into social scripts and our brain disengages. We say things like, “I’m fine” or “Good” or “Hanging in there.” If you hear the question in church, some people will answer in Christianese, “I’m blessed.”
What happens when you switch up the script? “I’m grateful! Thanks for asking.” Well, it forces people to stop and think. Wait…grateful for what? What is going on? Did I miss something? Not only does it force the other person to stop and ask a clarifying question, but it brings the idea of gratefulness to mind for the person giving the response as well.
This past Sunday, our congregation looked at the story of the ten lepers that Jesus encountered on the border between Galilee and Samaria (see Luke 17:11-19). Although Jesus healed all ten of them, only one returned to give thanks. The scripture says that this was especially significant because he was Samaritan. In other words, he was an outsider, who would not have been welcomed as a friend by the typical Jewish person.
Jesus responded to this man, saying that his faith had “saved him” (the Greek phrase translated as “made you well” can also be “has saved you”). It appears that gratitude was the key that unlocked a second blessing. All ten of the men were cleansed of their leprosy. All ten of them were able to return to their communities and their life before disease. Only one of them, however, connected with the Divine in this life-transforming manner.
What if we all made gratitude and thankfulness a habit? What if we all were looking for the blessings of God in the small, everyday things, and made it a habit to draw attention to them? What if we regularly responded to the question, “How are you?” with the response, “I’m grateful”? Would it cause people to stop and ask why? Would it launch us into deeper conversations and more connection with our neighbor or coworker? Maybe.
I can tell you that in just a few days, I’ve had at least a dozen conversations that I probably would not have had without that kind of intentional focus. I’ve heard stories about students volunteering time on their fall break to serve their church. I’ve heard about a nameless grouchy curmudgeon calling a staff member to express appreciation for the staffer’s efforts. I’ve watched a smile form on the face of a cashier at Food Depot who wasn’t expecting my off-script response. I’ve seen a social media thread where people discussed gratitude instead of all the things that angered them.
It seems like a small thing, but maybe that is what Jesus was trying to get us to see. Where the others missed it, the Samaritan leper got it. In returning to give thanks, he unlocked a deeper connection to the Divine and to his fellow brother. Maybe it could be true for us as well.