The Glad Game or…An Exercise in Perspective
“Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. I remember your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them. Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night I remember your name, O Lord, and I will keep your law. This has been my practice: I obey your precepts” (Psalm 119:49-56).
One of my favorite books when I was a little girl was a story about a girl who grew up in Africa. Her parents were missionaries and were “as poor as church mice.” The girl’s parents taught her to give thanks in everything—they even made up a game of trying to find as many things to be glad about, no matter how bad the situation. The girl faced a great deal of heartbreak when both of her parents die and she is sent to live with her aunt, who doesn’t like children in general, in a town that doesn’t like her in particular. Despite the tragedies in her life, the girl, Pollyanna, kept the lessons her parents taught her of living a life of gratitude.
The Psalmist in our lesson today had a similar frame of mind. He writes: “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” In the previous lesson we saw that the writer faced a great deal of opposition and persecution because of his faith. His response was to turn to God for comfort and hope. Persecution didn’t make him bitter against God, rather it drew him closer to the Lord. You can see his own “attitude of gratitude” when the writer states: “You have given me hope…. your promise preserves my life…I remember your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them…”
All of us face trials in life: physical, financial, relationships. At some point in life, you may also face persecution because of your faith. The writer’s example of leaning hard into God in difficult times and being grateful for God’s promise of help is a good model. The question I ask myself is this: how can I make gratitude, regardless of my circumstances, a lifestyle?
In the book, Pollyanna, the title character plays the “glad game.” It sounds ridiculous, I know, but the more I think about it, the better I like it. It’s an exercise in perspective. Pollyanna explains how the game started to Nancy, a maid in her aunt’s house.
“We began it on some crutches that came in a missionary barrel.”
“Yes. You see I’d wanted a doll, and father had written [the Ladies Society]; but when the barrel came, the lady wrote that no dolls had come in, but the little crutches had. So she sent ‘em along as they might come in handy for some child, sometime. And that’s when we began it.”
“Well I must say I can’t see any game about that,” declared Nancy, almost irritably.
“Oh yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what it was…and we began right then—on the crutches…[I couldn’t see what there was to be glad about at first,] Father had to tell it to me. ‘Why just be glad because you don’t need them!’” exulted Pollyanna triumphantly. “You see it’s just as easy when you know how” (Pollyanna, E. Porter, 1912).
Stepping outside our present circumstances to look for the good is difficult, but the more we practice, the easier it becomes. The benefit is that we begin to look away from ourselves and see that there is more to life than our own problems. Taking a step back helps us to see the bigger picture.
I doubt the apostle Paul knew about the glad game, but in his letter to the Thessalonians he writes: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all our circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:16–18). Be joyful always? Give thanks in ALL circumstances? My study Bible has this note: “People are naturally happy on some occasions, but the Christian’s joy is not dependent on circumstances. It comes from what Christ has done, and it is constant” (Zondervan, 2000). Our joy and thanksgiving—our own glad games—cannot be based on what we’re feeling or experiencing at the moment. They must be rooted in the fact that you and I are loved passionately and that we have hope and a future because of Christ Jesus.
Circumstances and emotions will always change—sometimes too often for comfort!—but the Word of God is unchanging. The psalmist writes: “I remember your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them.” God is faithful—period. His Word is full of His unwavering love—beginning to end. Whatever trials we face, God is bigger. We can trust in Him when circumstances are dark, when we feel lonely and afraid, when others turn their backs on us in our need—He is there. His shoulders are strong enough to carry whatever burden you have. That alone is a huge reason to give thanks and be glad!
Bible Study Questions:
What trial does the psalmist mention in this passage?
What does the writer say gives him comfort and hope?
Read Paul’s words again in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. What keeps you from being “joyful always” and giving thanks in all situations?
Paul ends these verses saying: “For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” What does this mean?
Turn over to James 1:2–4. How does this fit in with the verses from 1 Thessalonians?
The kind of maturity that James writes about here is spiritual maturity. Everyone who comes to Jesus in faith is born again as a spiritual baby and must learn and grow in their faith, much as babies must learn and grow physically. How do you think trials in our lives help us grow up spiritually?
Read Psalm 119:54-56. This seems to be the writer’s suggestion for overcoming bitterness and frustration at being persecuted and seeing the wicked prosper. What makes this an effective antidote?
Question for personal reflection: What trials are you facing personally? Take a mental step back from them. What can you find to be thankful for? Remember: God knows every detail and he loves you deeply and wants you to grow through your greatest heartaches. Trust in His unwavering grace, when everything else seems to be falling apart.