Recently I have seen 2 commercials for the same company [can’t remember the product – guess that wouldn’t please the advertisers]. Both ads feature a conversation between 2 people that begins to go terribly wrong. In one, a woman confronts her “boyfriend” at dinner in a fancy restaurant about his fear of commitment after their long dating relationship and wants to know if he will ever propose. In the other, two women are chatting while inspecting melons in the produce aisle of the grocery store. Woman #1 asks woman #2 when the baby is due to which the second replies, “What baby?” Both the man in the first ad and Woman #1 in the second ad panic and then try to deflect the woundedness of the person to whom he/she was speaking by saying hesitantly, “……Thank You?” After a moment of real bafflement and confusion both the young woman in the restaurant and woman #2 in the grocery story become emotional – overwhelmed that someone was thanking them for something – for anything! The hurt and frustration just seconds earlier are replaced by smiles and tears of appreciation……..
The scenes are laughable, to be sure. If only it were that easy to get out of a jam when confronted or to remove one’s foot from one’s mouth! [Been there, done that and I never got away that easily!] For me, the ads worked in that the message was the power of gratitude and the company paying for the ad was saying “Thank You” to its customers [now if only I could remember who was thanking me and for using what product].
But there is a point to be made here, I think. We live in a “grace-less” age where people see people as objects and the graciousness of civility is being lost, let alone the ability to value one another. People are so hungry for validation and affirmation that even something as simple as a “Thank You” really can move them to tears. As this hunger goes on unfulfilled we often respond negatively – some withdraw into a self-imposed loneliness believing we are not accepted and, we think, rightly so for we are not worthy of acceptance and affirmation; others become ill-tempered and lash out at those around them. Neither response allows for health and wholeness needed for real redemptive community. So what do we do about it?
There was an old man who went around carrying an oil can, and whenever he went through a door that creaked, he would pour a little oil on the hinges. If a gate was hard to open, he oiled the latch. It seemed that it was his mission in life to take the squeak and squawk out of things, and to make it a little easier for those who came after him. People called him eccentric, of course. They said he was more than a little batty. But he went merrily on, refilling his oil can when it became empty, and oiling the hard places in life.
You know, there really are hard places in life. We come upon them unexpectedly – in fact, one or more of you reading this article is in the middle of one right now – the hinges are groaning and the latches are nearly frozen with rust. When we find ourselves, or come upon others, in a situation like that what we need is a little lubrication with what Isaiah calls in chapter 61, verse 4 the oil of joy or gladness. Take minute to read Isaiah 61:1-4 – it is the scripture Jesus read in the synagogue as his call to ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives; and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord….To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning; the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness…that He [the Lord] may be glorified.”
As we come upon the season of Thanksgiving what is God calling you to be about in your relationships? For the next 24 hours try to really see the people around you – are they weary? Worn? Sad? Lonely? Isolated? Ill-tempered? Can you hear their hinges creaking or see them struggling against frozen latches? What can you do about it? What will you do about it? Maybe something as simple as…..“Thank You.”
…..now where did I put my oil can?