On whom have I given up?

“First of all, I urge that thanksgivings should be made for everyone (I Timothy 2:1)

Let’s face it. Even the most mature, enlightened and experienced of us need to confess: There are those we have given up on.

Mitt Romney may have given up on half the population in the United States. Unwise to admit, politically.

And yet haven’t we all, personally? That is, given up on those who annoy us to no end. On those who are different from us. On those whom we know we can’t change for the better. On those who appear to threaten our sense of security and stability. On those who are very near and dear to us who have fallen away from the faith. On those we pretend to have some measure of control or influence over, but who have rebelled against our wishes and desires. On the infirm, the elderly locked away in their homes or on the ward. Those in prison, incarcerated for committing some crime. On our political leaders. Have we given up on them?

Have you given up on that dream, a hope for your life? Have we given up on ourselves, tragically, when all options seem closed to us?

There’s a kind of resignation that comes with giving up. After having argued, reasoned, persuaded and tried oh so long and hard. After having endured tension and animosity for a long time. After trying so hard and so long.

Finally, enough is enough. We find ourselves at the end of our rope. I give up on them! I don’t want anything to do with them anymore. I don’t want to dream anymore!

Talking about politicians, I think it was Bill Clinton who said, “You become old when memories of the past outweigh your dreams for the future.” Have you given up?

And we turn to the scriptures to justify our resignation, where Jesus counseled his disciples in a specific situation to “shake the dust off your feet” (Mark 6:11); Jesus, who gave us words we use to rationalize not caring for the poor (Mark 14:7). We turn to Paul, who in another situation encouraged his followers not to associate with the ‘immoral’ (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Our anger, fear and anxiety lead us to insulate ourselves from others — creating fortresses and cocooning in places and routines that preserve our sense of self. As our world gets narrower and we dig ourselves deeper in the rut of isolation, our hearts harden and we fight harder to exclude others from our vision.

And then, surprise! We encounter the Gospel which states in no uncertain terms that in “God’s world there is no them and us. There is no them. Only us.” (@JamesMartinSJ)

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy Paul encourages Timothy to pray for all people, for God desires ALL people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1,4). Not just our friends. Not just those who agree with us. Not just those with whom we get along and are just like us.

But those very people who annoy us. Those who are different from us. Those with whom we have little in common. Those who do not listen nor agree with us. Those who intimidate us. ALL people.

Maybe I need to keep praying for these folks, and not give up on them. Because God Almighty Maker of heaven and earth surely hasn’t. God has not given up on them.

Maybe what I need to give up, if anything, is the presumption that somehow it is I who is going to save them, change them and make them into the person I want them to be. Maybe what I need to give up is the belief that it is I who will manufacture the life I want to live.

Maybe my job is to keep hoping, keep praying, keep being the person God made me to be. Maybe my job is to persist in a gracious disposition to those I encounter in my day. Maybe my job is to take the risk to reach out in love — and leave the rest up to God. Maybe my job is to let the Christ in me see the Christ in you.

Yes, that’s my job. But it is not my job to ever, ever, give up on anyone — including myself. My dreams. And God. And the person who I can’t stand.

How can I do this, and maintain this sense of compassion for all?

Listen to this story entitled, “The Old Man and the Gulls”, written by Paul Aurandt (in ‘Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story’, quoted in ‘Heaven Bound Living’ Standard Publishing, 1989, p.79-80):

It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket.

Many years ago, in 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere over the South Pacific their plane became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched the plane in the ocean…For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark…ten feet long.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie’s own words, “Cherry,” that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking…”Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now you also know…that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset…on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast…you could see an old man walking…white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls…to thank and remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness.

This story is about ‘not giving up’ — on several levels. Not giving up on life — even in the midst of desperate circumstances. Not giving up on God — for before the sea gull was caught, the surviving men praised God, said their prayers and sung a hymn. Not giving up on hope, even when all seemed hopeless.

And, finally, not giving up on giving thanks. The persistence that trumps a ‘giving up on’ kind of attitude is giving thanks over the long term. Not-giving-up is born from an attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving is grown in the heart, over the long haul. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker didn’t start living gratitude after his miraculous survival story; it was already being cultivated before it. It is about learning to see whatever good there is, even in the direst of situations — and giving thanks for any glimmer of grace therein.

I like the way Mary Jo Leddy in her book, “Radical Gratitude”, wrote about the gratitude expressed by the birds at the start of a new day; she writes:

“There is a moment each day when it is morning before it is morning. Darkness still hovers over the deep. Those who wait for the dawn can hear it even before they see it. At first there are only the slight sounds of attunement as a chorus of birds assembles: twits and trills, chirps and peeps, and even the occasional squawk. Slowly they gather into one great concerted song of supplication: Let it begin! Let us begin! May it begin again! They are of one accord. They do not take the dawn for granted. When it bursts upon them, once again, as on the first day of creation, they give thanks once again for this once only day, to begin. The birds know, as we sometimes do, that the light does not dawn because of our singing. We sing because the dawn appears as grace.”

Is there someone you’ve given up on? Is there a dream, a hope, for your life you are on the verge of ditching. Make a list. And then, sometimes this Thanksgiving weekend, go down that list slowly and give God thanks for each of the people you’ve named there. Give thanks for each of those dreams and hopes you have listed there.

And then pray that their hearts, as yours, will be opened to receive the grace, love and light of God. And God will give you your heart’s desire (Psalms 20:4 & 37:4).


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