Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I am convinced that every person alive has much for which to be thankful.
Oh, there are plenty of things which we can complain about. There are a multitude of reasons to be or become depressed. And, if we so choose, we can worry about anything. If it is not an international crisis in Israel or Ukraine or China or wherever, it may be presidential politics or state and local issues. We can find ourselves discouraged over the stock market or the price of dairy products in the grocery store.
But the challenge for every one of us for each and every day we live is to get up and get out of bed and in a word, two actually, be thankful.
I have never stopped to count them, but someone has apparently done so, or at least figured out in some way or by some mathematical calculation that on average you and I will take approximately 23,000 breaths today, and that is something that happens every day for a normally breathing person. I am convinced that when the psalmist proclaims, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6), he is encouraging us to use a majority of those breaths each day to utter words of praise and gratitude to the God who gave them to us.
One of the people in my life for whom I am most thankful is my bride. This summer we celebrated 50 years of marriage. I guess that makes me an old guy, but this woman keeps me younger than my age would suggest.
Our 50 years together is nothing compared to the marriages I have seen at the senior living community where I work as a chaplain here in Florida. This past week I officiated at a celebration of life for a woman who had been married to her husband for 60 years. But that is not even close. One of our resident couples here has been married for 68 years, and another for 75 years!
I was reflecting on our marriage and the longevity of these other marriages when I read of the marriage of John and Ann Betar of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Since John Betar and Ann Shawah said “I do” back on Nov. 25, 1932, they weathered many storms, but until John’s passing a few years ago, together they met each morning with eagerness and gratitude. They lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the terrorist attacks of 9-11, and two powerful hurricanes. They had five children, 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
John and Ann grew up across the street from each other in Bridgeport, and John used to drive Ann to high school in his Ford Roadster. They fell in love. When she was still a teenager, Ann’s father had arranged for her to wed a local man in Bridgeport. But her heart already belonged to John Betar. She and John eloped in Harrison, New York because, as Ann said, “We didn’t have any money to go any farther.” People told them it would never last. They were married for nearly 86 years, and were considered among the world’s longest married living couples at the time of John’s death.
They granted several interviews over the years and often offered some simple guidelines for building a lasting marriage. John said, “Get along. Compromise. Live within your means and be content. And let your wife be the boss.” But Ann countered, “We don’t have bosses.”
Both John and Ann were members of St. Nicholas Antiochan Orthodox Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and they acknowledge God as the source of their blessings. Ann said, “How can you not feel God’s right with you and blessing you?” John re-emphasized the importance of living with contentment. He said, “We just live with contentment and we don’t live beyond our means.”
Two Scriptures which help them and us to go through life, counting our breaths, being thankful for each and every day and everything in them, are: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) and “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
No matter what the time of life or the time of year, you and I should have an attitude of gratitude, one that helps us live together for 80-plus years or take our very next breath. An attitude of thanksgiving is one that will help us persevere through every situation, even the worst case of bronchitis ever.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].