Thursday, November 24, 2005

Focus On What You Have, Not On What You Don’t Have.

Kyle Maynard

(Thanksgiving 2005: This homily was given on Thursday, November 24, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Luke 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2005]

His name is Kyle Maynard.

He was born in 1986 with a rare disorder known as “Congenital Amputation.” Because of it, he has extremely short legs, deformed feet, and arms that end at the elbow joint.

But Kyle Maynard is happy—and thankful.

And he’s refused to let his physical shortcomings hold him back in his personal growth and development. With a deep faith in God—and with lots of encouragement from family and friends—he’s already done things that many people were convinced he could never do. Without the assistance of prosthetic limbs, for example, he’s learned how to eat using regular silverware! (Don’t ask me how, but he has!) He’s also learned how to write—and type. His handwriting, incidentally, is excellent; and I’m told that he can type at the rate of 50 words a minute!

He’s even been involved in sports. In fact, he now wrestles on the University of Georgia’s wrestling team, after having a very successful high school career in which he compiled a pretty impressive record of 35 wins and 16 losses.

I saw Kyle interviewed a couple of weeks ago on the 700 Club television program. During this interview, he made a number of noteworthy statements, but one of the most important was that he refuses to focus on what he doesn’t have. Rather, he makes the conscious choice every day to focus on what he does have—on the abilities and talents and gifts he does possess. So instead of becoming depressed because he doesn’t have two normal legs and two complete arms (which is what many people would do in his situation), he chooses to focus on his faith, and on the ability and opportunity he has to help other people deal with the trials they are currently facing in their lives. His message to them is: “With the help of God and others, I have overcome many of the obstacles that were placed in my path because of Congenital Amputation. You can do the same thing in your life, with respect to the obstacles that you are currently dealing with.”

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have.

Those who are truly grateful—like Kyle Maynard—do that: they focus on what they possess, not on what they lack.

Consider the leper in today’s Gospel story from Luke 17. On the day he was healed by Jesus, there were many things he didn’t have. That should be obvious. He didn’t have a nice home to go back to. (Because he was a leper, he had been living in isolation with other lepers, perhaps for many years.) He didn’t have a job; and he probably didn’t have many friends—at least he didn’t have many friends among the Jews, since he was a Samaritan. But once he was healed, it’s clear that he wasn’t focused on any of those things.

His focus was on what he did have at that moment: faith in Jesus, and restored physical health.

And so he was grateful.

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have.

Perhaps some of you are saying to yourselves, “That sounds pretty easy to do, Fr. Ray.”

Well, don’t be fooled! It isn’t easy!—which is precisely why I bring it up in this Thanksgiving Day homily!

In fact, we are currently living in a consumer culture in which we are being programmed—subtly taught—every single day to focus on what we lack, on what we don’t possess!

And this is very easy to illustrate. I ask you: How many advertisements are you exposed to during an average day—on TV, on the radio, in magazines, and on the internet?

Lots of them, right?

And what’s the underlying message contained in 99.9% of these advertisements? Very simply, the message is: You don’t have this!—you don’t have this great car; you don’t have this camera; you don’t have this toy; you don’t have this new video game; you don’t have this super laundry detergent. But you should!

And how about the hedonistic and materialistic messages that come at us constantly, especially in the media?—You don’t have the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse; you don’t have the perfect body like those athletes and Hollywood models; you don’t have as much money as Donald Trump or Bill Gates. You don’t have, you don’t have, you don’t have . . .

No wonder so many people are depressed and dissatisfied these days, even though they have so much! They are programmed to be that way! Or perhaps I should say, they have allowed themselves to be programmed that way.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why suffering is not the worst thing in the world. Admittedly, none of us likes to suffer. We’d much rather prosper and have it easy. That’s human nature. But if we reflect on the experience of suffering for a moment, we will realize that it often has a positive effect in our lives. Specifically, it “deprograms” us! That is to say, it stops us from focusing on what we lack, and gets us to zero in (for a change) on what we do have. Think of Kyle Maynard: his suffering certainly has had that effect on him.

Think, too, of some of the victims Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. They also illustrate the point beautifully. After losing their homes and all their earthly possessions, many of those who lived through these terrible disasters have been quoted as saying things like: “I am grateful that I still have my faith;” “I am grateful that I have my family;” “I am grateful that I survived, and that I still have my health;” “I am grateful that I have such caring and devoted friends who are supporting me through all this.”

Their suffering has caused a radical shift in their focus—and has made them grateful.

The choice, it seems to me, should be pretty clear at this point: If you choose to focus on what you have, you will develop an attitude of gratitude in your life.

On the other hand, if you choose to focus on what you don’t have, you will simply develop an “attitude”!

Dear Lord, help us—as you have helped Kyle Maynard—to have the right focus!