Living examples have always been one of God’s favorite mechanisms for getting a point across, and stories that depict those living examples tend to stick in our heads and get told and retold over the years. One of those simple examples comes to mind again as Thanksgiving week 2017 begins to unfold.
We were off on a Thanksgiving holiday trip and experiencing our familiar love/hate relationship with travel and traffic—loving the idea of going to see family that we don’t get to see often enough and hating the fact that multitudes of others not only co-opted our holiday travel plan, but kept getting in the way and cluttering up the road we were trying to use.
In the course of our journey, we eventually encountered another road-trip irritation—a toll booth. Toll roads are prime illustrations of government benefits that feel like extortion, because the cost of the road, which the toll is ostensibly intended to repay, eventually gets covered, but the tolls almost never go away and only increase over the years. They offer frazzled travelers blessings like additional stress, added expense, and delayed arrival times.
In spite of the hectic holiday pressure and the line of cars between us and the toll booth, my frustration tolerance was still in the manageable range. Grandma would be proud. But as we inched our way forward, my reservoir of holiday-inspired tranquility was beginning to bump into the red zone. I might have been okay had the lady in the car in front of me not decided to engage in some unnecessary extra conversation with the toll collector. It probably only chewed up a minute or two, but it felt much longer than that and was just enough to stimulate some unsolicited encouragement for her, like…
- “Come on, Lady—It’s a toll booth, not a practice session for your next speed-dating pickup line.”
- “This ain’t rocket science, Ma’am… You just let go of the money, and then press on the gas pedal with your right foot.
- “Please, lady, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Is it really too much to ask on Thanksgiving Eve that you just show a little consideration and follow the standard procedure so the rest of us can get on with it?”
Totally Blindsided ~
She pulled away just as I was beginning to reflect on how disappointing it was to have been born before they figured out how to make cheap little flying cars like the ones on that “Jetsons” cartoon show. As we rolled up toward the booth, the toll collector was waving at us in a way that didn’t make sense, and I didn’t understand what she wanted us to do. More irritation. “Swell,” I thought. “It’s not enough that we’re forced to pay a fee to secure release from toll booth purgatory; now we’re expected to interpret sign language.” When we got close enough to ask what was going on, the collector said, “You guys can just keep going; that lady in front of you paid your toll—Happy Thanksgiving.”
Blindsided with kindness—no way to see it coming, and no defense against the impact it had on my whole outlook. It was like emotional and attitudinal whiplash. Suddenly, my whining and complaining felt petty and very out of place. I felt undeservedly blessed, and instead of regurgitating more complaints, my mind was drawn toward all the things I had been blessed with that I didn’t actually ask for. I began to reflect on how much better the same world felt when the lens colored with little annoyances and minor frustrations was exchanged for one tinted with gratitude, optimism, and hope. I was deeply impressed by the difference a relatively small and comparatively inexpensive investment could make.
A Current Act–An Ancient Principle ~
An obscure incident initiated by a nameless woman provided an excellent illustration of a principle that Jesus taught.
“Therefore,” He said, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NKJV).
A Mood-altering Moment with Ongoing Implications ~
The woman who paid the toll had no prior contact or personal knowledge of the recipients. She would almost certainly never meet us face-to-face and had no expectation of a reciprocal benefit for her kindness, yet she did it anyway. The process is fascinating. This simple little unexpected act had an almost instantaneous impact on the mood and outlook of those who received it. She had opened our minds and directed our hearts toward thanksgiving in a very “Jesus” kind of way—a very “Right Side Up” thing to do in this “Upside Down World”.
It’s remarkable how often during this time of year we hear people express “being thankful” in a general, nondescript way, directing their gratitude to no one in particular. Perhaps that’s better than not expressing gratitude at all, but God intended it to be much more objective, much more detailed, much more fulfilling, and much more productive. God’s desire is that we become living examples that illustrate His point, like doing unprovoked acts of kindness that give people an opportunity to experience unanticipated gratitude, to feel some unexpected hope, and to have a little exposure to the kind of selfless love that can change the world.
Positive perceptions lead to optimistic outlooks that then lead to actions indicative of hope. It’s remarkable what a little unexpected good news can do to change the direction of our thinking and, ultimately, our behavior. Imagine the impact if all of us sacrificed a little time, effort, or money to stimulate some thanksgiving and to help dismantle a negative, complaining attitude. What if all of us took a page from this unknown woman’s book and thought beyond turkey dinners and shopping? What if instead of looking over our shoulders for reasons to be grateful, we started paving the way for someone else’s Thanksgiving?
The Rest of the Story ~
By the way, just in case you were wondering, on the return trip, we paid the toll for somebody in line behind us at the toll plaza. It was a kind of fun thing to do. Amazing how that works, isn’t it?
© 2017 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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