My Life as a Dog, 1985 Swedish film (with subtitles); 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes; not for the kids)
(…continued) Do you spend more time being grateful or making comparisons? But do we have any right to be envious of God’s generosity to someone else (Matthew 20:15)? After all, what makes us think we are capable of making a valid comparison between our own blessings and the blessings someone else has received? Does anyone know ALL the aspects of another person’s life; all the blessings and all the sorrows? There are so many aspects to a life– family, finances, work, health, mental well-being, and so much more. Do we really think we can make an accurate judgement of who has received more or less from God?
What we usually do is take for granted those ways God has blessed us the greatest, and then look around with resentment at those who have something more of something else. For example, someone with plenty of money may take that for granted, and be envious of the stability and peace they see in someone else’s family. Someone with a close family may take that for granted and be envious of the greater financial security they see in someone else’s life. Yet another person might have plenty of money and a stable family, and take all of that for granted, but be envious of the good health of someone who has little money and lives in a hopelessly dysfunctional family. So it goes. We would all be much better off if we did not make any comparisons at all. In the parable and in the story of Alan, it is the comparisons that cause the trouble. It is the comparing that destroys the sense of gratitude. In our relationship with God, such comparing might even lead to a bitterness that can destroy one’s faith.
The illustration of winning the lottery provides only a meager example of the kind of windfall we all receive by just being born and given this life—even more so, being born in this country at this time. This parable of Jesus is all about making comparisons. If you really compare life in this nation of opportunity, at this time of such prosperity, with practically any other time or place, you will realize that you have already won the jackpot in life’s lottery just by being born here at this time.
Whenever I think about this problem of comparisons, I recall the film, “My Life as a Dog.” The movie is about a little boy who has a hard life. His father abandoned the family and his mother ignored him. Then she got sick and died, and he was sent off to live with relatives. There, he has some good times, but also several misfortunes. Yet, for the most part, he remains a cheerful and hopeful little boy. The source of his good attitude is shown in several scenes when, after something bad happens to him, he goes off by himself to think. And it is in these thoughts that he makes all sorts of comparisons to cheer himself up. And these are comparisons are the opposite of those made by Al’s friend or by the workers in the parable. The boy looks up into the night sky and says to himself things like, “Just think, I could have been in that car last week that was hit by a train. All those people dead and injured. That could have been me. Or just think about that man across the street with the bad kidneys who had to have an operation but died anyway. I could have bad kidneys. Or think about that poor dog Laika that the Russians sent up into space for an experiment (the setting was the late 1950’s). Will he ever come back? No, when the experiment is over, that poor dog will run out of food and then just die up there. Think of how lonely that poor dog must be. At least I am not that bad off.” And with such thoughts, the little boy would always cheer himself up. Instead of comparing himself to all the happy children in town who had parents, and being angry his unfortunate life, he compared himself to those who had greater troubles, and he was able to stay cheerful and grateful.
Much of our spiritual and mental well-being is based not so much on what we have received in life, but on our attitude towards what we have. We have all been given a mixed bag of blessings and troubles, and we can receive it with gratitude or resentment. The message of the parable is to be careful in our comparisons, to think clearly about what we deserve from God, and most of all, remember God’s grace and generosity and be grateful.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18 — Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
James 1:16-17a — My dear brothers and sisters, don’t let anyone fool you. Every good and perfect gift is from God…
Psalm 136:1 — O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
“COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS” By Johnson Oatman, Jr.
As performed by The Jackson Gospel Singers:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Refrain: Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by… Refrain
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. Refrain