Choose to Pour the Oil
I know drought. Land baked as hard as concrete. You have to take a screwdriver to scrape back the earth if you are looking for embryo sprouting tender green.
We’ve done that, he and I. Walked fields shattered wide open, cracked mouths gaping for rain. Bent over and clawed back ground, stared into the barren dust, and wondered if the heavens might ever show mercy and drench us with life.
That is one thing I understand: no rain in the land. I can see the shadows hanging over her eyes, hear the scratchy ache in her voice, that widow woman telling Elijah that though he may like her to fetch water and bread, she doesn’t think she is feeding too many folks today: “I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” (1 Kings 17:12)
And what does God say? “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.”
Is it possible? Do I know anything about that kind of trust? When there’s no rain in the land?
“So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”
My life gets dry. Recession looms, stresses mushroom, responsibilities overwhelm. It’s easy to grow a bit hard, crack open, weary for refreshment.
And I wonder if our daily lives are characterized by as much joy and gratitude as we presume? Are those emotions something we believe in, give mental assent to…but rarely feel. I wonder if we don’t allow our well-being too often to be at the whim of mainly external factors. We rely, wait, on some outer emotional weather, our daily environment, to rain down some joy, shower us with happiness. Sadly, we let something of such paramount import as our daily joy to be unpredictable and fleeting, dependent on environmental happenings rather than a permanent, interior fixture of our being.
If we know gratitude bathes us in joy, why isn’t it a trait we nurture in our everydays, when there is no rain in the land? Why does joy seem more like an evasive mirage for most people, an oasis we rarely arrive at, put down roots and make our long term address?
“We propose that a main factor is that people generally do not make efforts to actively infuse their daily experiences with greater emotional quality…. Although most people definitively claim that they love, care, appreciate, it might shock many to realize the large degree to which these feelings are merely assumed or acknowledged cognitively, far more than they are actually experienced in their feeling world. In the absence of conscious efforts to engage, build, and sustain positive perceptions and emotions, we all too automatically fall prey to feelings such as irritation, anxiety, worry, frustration, self-doubt and blame.”
Why do we live dry? We do not remember or choose to pour the oil. We don’t actively infuse our common moments with the oil of gladness. Our default mode is to go gather sticks and prepare for heart death. Our habit of thinking is to live where there is no rain.
But there is always oil in the jar, always oil awaiting our intentional pouring. The more we give thanks, the more joy fills our reservoirs. The more we pour out in praise, the more gladness overflows the jar of our souls. I just but need to remember to deliberately pour.
Big Brother harasses Little Girl with menacing face and deep growl. Screams pierce the air. I only have two items stroked off my list of tasks. Farmer Husband’s standing there with bills in his hands but no cheques, explaining to me, through the wails, the rocketing input costs facing us this spring.
In the moment, there doesn’t feel like there is much rain in my land. There doesn’t feel like there is enough of me to go around. I want to push back, raise voice, conserve me. But the moments when I feel soul drought choking, that’s my flag to do what is counter-intuitive: to actively, wildly pour out the oil of gratitude. To intentionally choose to give thanks.
I take a deep breath, exhale, and with a whisper, tip the oil jar: “Father, I thank you for this family, for these two little children and their life and health, for a husband who cares about our future, for my two hands and feet to do the work You’ve given me. I thank you for simply being alive, breathing here with these people I love, living in the grace of the Cross.”
I feel water dripping down on my parched places, joy filling me. And it isn’t positive thinking that changes a mindset, that delivers fresh joy to the dry places. Why?
“[R]esearch in the neurosciences has made it quite clear that emotional processes operate at a much higher speed than thoughts,” posits McCraty. In other words, the emotional strength of our stresses grip us faster than any positive thinking can intervene.
I feel the reviving cool of joy only because to effectively change feelings, to change a heart, to gain control over emotions, one must engage not mere positive thoughts, but God-glorifying feelings.
“… strategies that encourage “positive thinking” without also encouraging positive feelings may frequently provide only temporary, if any, relief from emotional distress,”
concludes McCraty (emphasis in the original). And that is exactly what giving thanks is, the encouraging of the positive feeling of gratitude, the positive feeling of thankfulness, an intense emotion of appreciation. To transform our emotions, we must engage a counter emotion. “And in everything give thanks.”
There may be no rain in our land, and the drought of our interior landscape may feel as if it is unto death. But when the dryness burns, that is the precise time to remember to pour the oil.
For in the giving of thanks, joy rains down new life.
Today, Lord, when the dry times come today, and they will, remind me to pour the oil of gratitude. Gratitude lubricates a life, revives the withered places, and is what I am made for, for “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name” (Ps. 92:1-2)….
Consider cultivating gratitude as a permanent soul fixture, an interior trait, by purposing to daily count the blessings, with your own 1000 Gifts:
Why begin you own One Thousand Gift List –(drop me a line if you do, and I’ll add you to the “1000 Gifts” blogroll in the sidebar– we invite you to join the gratitude community!)