On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am still thinking about the wonderful things I have to be thankful for: my amazing wife, family, grandchilden, and so much more.
But so often I forget about the basic necessities of life that God has provided for me.
The words below – adapted from two articles by J. Lee Grady – was a good reminder for me. I hope it will be for you as well.
Americans today face economic challenges, but we have nothing to complain about. We Americans are a blessed people, but we are also spoiled. I know I am. I can get flustered over the stupidest things – like when my cellphone doesn’t get a good signal, when a flight is delayed or when my computer takes too long to load a website. Most people in the world don’t have iPhones, can’t afford air travel and don’t have computers. My impatience reveals my ungrateful spirit.
So how can we avoid this virus of selfish immaturity? Thankfulness is the antidote. It melts our pride and crushes our sense of entitlement. It reminds us that everything we have comes from God, and that His mercy is the only reason we are blessed.
Right after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines this month, a friend sent me the amazing photo I’m posting here.
It’s a shapshot of a Pentecostal church service in the Philippines held a few days after the monster storm displaced 3 million people and killed more than 5,000. Notice that the worshippers are standing in about 16 inches of water. A flooded church did not keep these people from thanking God that they were spared.
I’ve stared at this grainy photo many times since I received it. I intend to stare at it some more, especially during the Thanksgiving holidays, because I want the image burned in my heart. When I look at the dedication of these poor Filipinos – some of whom lost what little they owned – I am forced to face my smug first-world ingratitude.
Here are 12 things you should be thankful for this Thanksgiving:
1. Got clean water? The next time you uncap a bottle of water or grab a drink from the tap, remember that one in eight people in the world (that’s 884 million people) lack access to clean water supplies. Because of that, about 9 million people will die this year because of water-related illnesses. Millions of women around the world spend an average of four hours daily walking to get water. When you take a five-minute shower, you use more water than a typical person in a developing country uses in a whole day.
2. Do you have a bathroom? About 40 percent of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) do not have toilets. Lack of sanitation facilities spreads disease and is a major reason why more than 2 million people die annually of diarrhea.
3. How’s your electricity? The power in my house might be interrupted briefly three times a year because of Florida storms. But 1.6 billion people – a quarter of humanity – live without any electricity. And, because of unreliable infrastructure, at least 2 billion people on earth don’t have any light at night. Do you enjoy your washing machine? Data analyst Hans Rosling recently reported that 5 billion people in the world still wash their clothes by hand.
4. Got a roof over your head? The U.N. Commission on Human Rights says there are 100 million homeless people in the world. One in three children in the world live without adequate shelter. They live in cardboard boxes, tin-roofed shacks, one-room mud huts or filthy, crowded tenements. And today there are about 42 million people who are living as refugees. Most were displaced by war and live in crude camps.
5. Is there food on your table? The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world’s population is overfed, one-third is underfed and one-third is starving. In the United States we are battling an obesity epidemic. Yet according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are chronically undernourished, and almost 28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted.
6. Got a stove? In developing countries, some 2.5 billion people use fuelwood, charcoal or animal dung to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 80 percent of the population depends on these means for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China. The really sad part: indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of 5.
7. Got regular income? You may have had to take a pay cut during the recession. But keep in mind that at least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. The world’s average income is about $7,000 a year. Still, only about 19 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with per capita incomes at least this high.
8. Do you own a car? The United States still has the highest number of motor vehicles in the world. Globally, only 1 out of every 8 people has access to a car. Many of the others either walk, take crowded buses or public vans or ride on bicycles, rickshaws or animals. Did you fly somewhere in the past year? You are blessed. Only 5 to 7 percent of people in the world have ever flown in an airplane.
9. Did you go to school? Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Enrollment data shows that about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005 (and 57 percent of them were girls). Only 6.7 percent of people in the world have a college diploma.
10. Are you generally healthy? Americans face illness like people in other nations – and more than 12 million Americans are battling cancer in any given year. But many of us have access to health care. In the developing world, more than 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized. An estimated 40 million people in developing countries are living with HIV/AIDS. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities, mostly in Africa.
11. Do you have health care? Here in the United States, we are debating the pros and cons of Obamacare – and griping about the reliability of the government’s infamous health care website. But let’s keep in mind that in developing countries, you might wait 8 hours to see a doctor in a clinic where there are no medicines and no electricity – and you might have to bribe the doctor to see him.
12. Are you free to worship God? More than 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions. Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. More than 400 Christians die for their faith every day around the world.
I encourage you to make your own list of blessings. Thanksgiving is not an optional virtue. Without it, our pride swells and our selfishness consumes us. This is why David wrote, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
Thanksgiving calibrates our hearts so we remember again that we are more than abundantly blessed and remember exactly Who deserves the credit for those abundant blessings.