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Make us truly thankful

Every time I heard him pray, he prayed the same prayer.

It sounded like a mix of prayers he’d learned as a child — lead us not into temptation, make us truly thankful, Oh God you are so good God God Lord, in your name Amen.

A friend and I joked that we could recite it along with him, and even tried to do so a couple of times. I guess I thought he was nervous praying in front of other people, or something, and therefore had a difficult time coming up with something to say.

I was young, and very disrespectful. And I was very wrong.

This older gentleman prayed the “same” prayers each time he prayed publicly because they were the words that came to his mind straight from his heart every opportunity he had to thank God and praise him in prayer with others. He wasn’t reciting some rote prayer that he’d just memorized, that meant nothing to him. He was speaking the words that his heart formed deep within him and that fell off his lips when he poured out his heart to his creator.

Every year just before Thanksgiving in the church I attended, an elderly lady would slowly stand when it was her turn to share in the evening worship service.

The pastor had asked anyone who wanted to do so to share publicly what they thanked God for this Thanksgiving holiday. The same two or three people would kick it off each year, and multiple people would join in. Some talked over each other a bit. It was inevitable when you couldn’t hear everyone clearly.

But that part of the service was not complete until this woman took her turn. If she didn’t speak within what the rest of us thought was a reasonable timeframe, necks would crane and inquisitive looks over shoulders would try to find her in a rear pew to make sure she was present.

When her creaking bones straightened her to a standing position, she’d call the pastor’s name, and say she was just thankful to God for her salvation, her family, her friends, her church, her home … and we could all probably have recited her litany for her with near dead-on accuracy. I used to wonder why her list never varied.

If I shared aloud — which I did not always do — I wanted to say something different than the last time I spoke. Just to be, well … different. I put a lot of thought into what to say. I couldn’t just say I was grateful for God, my family, etc., because everybody else had just said those things a million times. I wanted to be unique and thank God for something else, like … I don’t know … green anole lizards, or something. Or maybe I said that last year.

It wasn’t that I was not genuinely grateful. I was, and am, all the time.

But this woman, this sweet kind woman, always said the same things. Always with a smile. And everyone always smiled with her and said their amens as she lowered her fragile frame back to the thinly-padded wooden pew.

Finally, thank God, it hit me.

One year as she slowly marked off each item on her perennial list of thanksgiving, I understood. This was the same as the old man who prayed a sincere prayer every time he prayed. She hadn’t run out of things to be thankful for and so relied on an old list. She was genuinely thankful for every single thing, every year, day in and day out.

When it hit me, so did shame for my arrogance and impatience. It was followed by humility and a deep sense of appreciation for everything I’d ever been given, for grace upon grace.

When she finished, I stood and held onto the pew in front of me.

Through tears, I blubbered out a list of things and people for which and whom I was grateful. I don’t know if anyone other than God understood what I said. Probably not, but it didn’t matter.

And what I said was the same things I’d said before — thank you God, for my salvation, for my family, friends, church, home … and as I sat down I heard the amens.

Be thankful this Thanksgiving and everyday. Tell God you’re grateful, and tell everyone else. Even if — maybe especially if — it’s the same old list.

News editor Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.