Gratitude can seem juuuust out of reach sometimes, can’t it? Because gratitude – as we usually think of it – is an internal reaction to an external stimulus. (Wow. That sounds an awful lot like high school science. Yikes.)
Something happens outside of ourselves – something good or bad or neutral comes into our lives in one form or another – and we react either with gratitude or…not. We have knee-jerk reactions and then, if we’re more intentional, we choose more deliberate ways of moving forward in light of what’s happened.
Scripture doesn’t mince words when it tells us that we’ll have difficult things happen, and that we can choose how we respond. It tells us we’ll struggle, but that we should maintain a Christlike attitude through it all.
Write out 1 Thessalonians 5:18, really taking in what it says. What stands out to you?
To me, the words “all things” stand out, and I think we typically imagine those “all things” to be the external stimuli we talked about.
Write out 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 and John 16:33.
Clearly, we’re going to struggle. Things are going to happen, and while we’re assured that we’re going to suffer under the weight of life, we’re also promised that those pressures will not do us in.
But…what happens if the struggles aren’t external? What do we do if the suffering originates inside of ourselves? It’s hard to be grateful for those things…and those things make it hard to be grateful for anything else since they’re the lens through which we see the world.
If you’ve read much of my blog or listen to my podcast, you may know where I’m going with this. My greatest struggle in my life – the thing that has made it hardest for me to find gratitude – is mental illness. I’ll go further into specifics later, but for now, let’s each turn our focus inward. A little introspection is good for us.
Read Mark 5:1-5.***
What we see in Mark 5 is a man whose greatest struggle is internal. What does your Bible translation say is his affliction? If the terminology used is confusing, check a concordance for a little more insight.
Regardless of the wording, though, we learn a few things about this man:
1 – He lives ______________________.
2 – He had been ____________________________ but had ______________________________.
3 – His suffering is great, so he _____________________________________________________.
The man has been made to live among the tombs outside of town. It seems the living had no use for him. They had banished him there – after chaining him up – because they didn’t know what else to do with him.
Read Mark 5:6-8. How does the man respond when he sees Jesus? Given his struggle, why does this seem significant to you?
What does Jesus do? How does this contrast to the response of the community? What does it tell you about Jesus?
Read Mark 5:9-10. Why do you think Jesus might have asked the man his name?
Personally, it seems to me that since Jesus knows all, He didn’t need to ask the man’s name. What He needed was for the man to hear – from his own mouth – the utter desperation of his situation. Jesus needed the man to recognize the depth of his need for help.
Read Mark 5:11-13. This is a bizarre story, right? Demons and pigs running off a cliff? It wouldn’t be included in Scripture if it weren’t significant, so why do you think this might be important?
Imagine the man – formerly possessed – and how he might have felt seeing what Jesus caused to happen. He was seeing with his eyes what he undoubtedly felt in his body – that he was released and that the spirits had no more control over him. He was free.
Read Mark 5:14-17. It seems that the people had much the same reaction both before and after the miracle. Describe this reaction.
We see this human dynamic at play in our world today, don’t we? We tend to be afraid of what we don’t understand, and crave distance from things that make us uncomfortable.
Read Mark 5:18. This is a beautiful verse that could easily be overlooked. In it, we see that Jesus ____________________, and the man __________________________________________.
What does that tell you? Does that tug at your heart? (It does mine!) Why do you think that is?
Finish the story by reading Mark 5:19-20. Did the man get to do what he wanted? How do you think he felt when Jesus answered his request?
This story is profound to me, for a lot of reasons. I’ll share more of my personal story and how it relates to this later this week, but for now, ask yourself these questions:
Do I have an internal (and thus invisible) struggle?
Has that struggle isolated me from others and/or from God?
How could an encounter with Jesus – in the midst of that struggle – affect how I see it?
What is one way I can find gratitude for even this?
Use the next couple of days to meditate on those questions and what is happening in your life. Come back on Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – to read about how I’ve found gratitude in my greatest struggle. Our struggles are different, but we’re in this together.
***I want to be clear about something from the outset: I am in no way insinuating that mental illness or any other internal struggle is the result of demonic possession. That is not my personal belief, though I realize others may disagree.