4 Things Refugees Can Teach Us About Thankfulness
The story of refugee Pii Chui and his family is one of my favorite Deidox documentaries because his character shines through the lens so clearly. In the face of past and present hardships, not to mention future uncertainty, Pii Chui is at once humble and confident, grounded and hopeful. In a word, he is thankful, and I find the thankfulness of this refugee brother incredibly affecting and instructive. If you haven’t seen the short documentary, here’s it is.
Here are 4 lessons from this refugee family about how to be thankful:
1. Find God in all things.
Pii Chui is clearly not thankful for every circumstance, but he derives strength from being thankful in every situation. That’s because his eyes are on God. It’s not that God is remote and sends blessing and hardship from a distance, but that in every circumstance God is present. As Pii Chui says, “We do not worry, because God is with us and we are with him.” This is not the empty optimism of finding a silver lining in every storm cloud, but finding God in all things. Thankfulness is less about the gifts, and more about the Giver.
2. Don’t thank God that you are not like other people.
Sometimes I claim to be thankful when all I really am is relieved—relieved that I don’t have to live the hard story I’ve just seen. Jesus told a story once about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee thanked God that he wasn’t like the tax collector, and although the difference for the Pharisee was moral rather than material, we often pray the same prayer and commit the same error. “God, thank you that I do not have to face what Pii Chui faces,” isn’t really a prayer of thanksgiving. But it can be the first step toward true thankfulness because it can highlight gifts we take for granted. Then that gratitude for the gifts can lead us to thankfulness toward the Giver. Better still is Pii Chui’s mature thankfulness, which does not require comparison to anyone else’s situation.
3. Ask God for help.
Thankfulness does not mean pretending that everything is okay, and Pii Chui models for us someone who is in touch with the hardships he faces, such as the rejection of his family, the insults at his job, and the uncertainty of where he is allowed to live. Because he knows God is with him every day, he sees clearly how he can serve God every day. To use St. Paul’s words, he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength (Philippians 4:13). But Paul’s words and Pii Chui’s example are for me in my circumstances as well. For Paul, the “all things” he could do with God’s help included both poverty and riches, both hardship and ease. There are particular dangers to the soul in every situation and Pii Chui’s advantage over me is that he is aware of his need for God’s help, whereas I tend to assume that living in plenty requires no special help from God. When I don’t live in awareness of my need for God, I can’t become truly thankful.
4. Hold on to hope.
Pii Chui’s thankfulness is possible because of his hope. He says, “Whether we are in Thailand or Burma, we are citizens of heaven, citizens of God’s kingdom.” Like the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, Pii Chui is looking for a country of his own—not the one he left, but a heavenly one. The thankfulness he has developed in hardship has purified his allegiance to God, which will not be unsettled if circumstances change and he gets to go back to Burma. Knowing where I truly belong and to whom I truly belong, I can live a life of attentive thankfulness whether a refugee or a citizen.
This is a guest post by our friend Peter Hough, Pastor at The Alton Mission in Alton, IL (just across the river from St. Louis). He also has a blog called The Ironic Disciple. Peter sees his primary calling as keeping people attentive to what God is doing. This calling expresses itself in contemplation, writing, and preaching; in developing leaders; and in leading the Alton Mission to connect with God in worship and mission.