DAVID MURDOCK COLUMN: On a grateful heart (and the lessons of a flannel shirt)

David Murdock  |  Contributor Earlier this week, a product review found its way into my inbox. One that taught me a lesson. A lesson that I thought I knew already, so I suppose it was more like a "pop quiz." Anyway, one morning there was a review of lined flannel shirts. That's something I might actually use, so I perused the review. It shocked me.  Before I go on, let me say a couple things. One, I've never shied away from spending a little more money on quality goods. That's a reasonable investment. I own some quality shirts that I've had for more than 20 years, for example. If properly cared for, quality clothing stands the test of time. A little more money, not a mint. 

Second, I didn't save the review and cannot find it now. I Googled it every which way I can think, but no luck. Not only could I not find the original review, I was astounded by the sheer number of reviews out there on "lined flannel shirts." I remember the original article well enough to talk about it, but I'm going to hold back on the product brands. The lesson is the same without knowing the brands.  Most product reviews that pop into my inbox -- don't tell me the internet doesn't figure out what we buy and tailor advertisements to us -- are about "outdoor products." Reviews of tools or outdoor clothing, for example. There's a trend in these reviews: No matter how many products they review, there will always be a "best" choice and a "best budget" choice. The "best" is for those people to whom money is no object; "best budget" is for folks like me.   Frankly, I'm sometimes astounded at the price of some of these products. That review was no exception. The best "lined flannel shirt" to last for a lifetime of outdoor wear cost £350! My mouth may have dropped open a little. Quickly scanning for the "best budget," I found one for £35, which was more like it.

Scanning through the list, I found one from a company I like for £99 -- that might be worth it, but I'll have to think about it.  The worst thing that an internet can do is cause the potential customer to think about it. Needless to say, I'm wearing the same old beat-up lined flannel shirt I've worn for the last decade right now. It's faded and the cuffs are frayed, but it's warm and comfortable. It fulfills the function of a "lined flannel shirt" to perfection, so there's no need to buy.  Now here's the jump to a lesson. All of a sudden, Philippians 4: 11b-12 flooded into my mind. Paul is thanking the Philippians for a gift of support they had sent, but assures them "... For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."    Paul is not speaking directly to my situation -- he's obviously speaking of much deeper "need" than whether or not to buy a new lined flannel shirt -- but he displays a grateful heart. 

Our modern culture encourages us, even makes it easy, to buy more and more and more and ... well, y'all get it. However, Paul reminds us not only to "Count Our Blessings," in the words of a favorite hymn of mine, but to have gratefulness in our hearts. In all of Paul's thanks to the Philippians, in fact, he does not specifically mention what it was that they sent to him. In verse 18, he says, "I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent." There is nothing about what "the gifts you sent" was -- it could have been money, or it could have been something else.  Like clothing. 

Far too often, I'm grateful for things. That's not wrong; it's just not exactly complete. What I got from this lesson is that I shouldn't only be grateful for the things of my life -- like my faded and frayed flannel shirt -- but that the Lord provides.  To recap the lesson I learned: Did I pass the "pop quiz"? I think so. Yes, I did understand what the "pop quiz" tested.  How did I do on the full-on "examination"? That's trickier.

I passed, I think. Barely. I didn't buy a new flannel shirt. That seems to me to be the minimum "passing grade" here. However, the larger lesson took me a while.  It's one thing not to buy something that I don't really need. The "price" of that "best" flannel made it easy. It's another thing to be thankful for my old shirt. But it's another thing entirely to have that grateful heart of Paul's. That's where I need to work. Paul says, "I have learned" twice in that passage, and that he had to learn the lesson too encourages me.  So, this Thanksgiving, I'll cultivate a grateful heart, an "attitude of gratitude" for the wealth of my life -- the family and friends around me at the table, certainly, but also the true source of all the real wealth I enjoy. 

David Murdock is an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College.

He can be contacted at [email protected]

The opinions reflected are his own.