Today’s post is the featured article from the June 2009 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newTaken for granted … these 3 words are like the kiss of death. When it is done to us, it leaves us relationally empty. When we do it, we leave ourselves dangerously vulnerable. It doesn’t matter whether it is in our marriage, our family, our work, our nation, or life itself.

We build our “little worlds” with structures and routines that provide comfort, protection … and a façade that rocks us gently into a false comfort. Taking things for granted easily lulls you into an incremental sense of entitlement. And entitlement robs you of the desire to strive for what you need … and in the end, you let your guard down.

As I look around, I see a lot “taken for granted.” And as I look in the mirror, I feel anything but immune from such a destructive perspective. It is easy to become infected. It is way more contagious than any “swine flu” epidemic.

This progressive disease tends to manifest itself in the fog of complacency.

This complacency can show-up in many ways. I have been increasingly aware of this complacency while attending various sporting events. Now I know this might seem a little “picky” … but so is complacency. It tends to sneak-up on you. I’m not talking about the fans’ response to the game itself. There is rarely lack of fan enthusiasm for the game. I’m talking about the “ritual” that inaugurates most sporting events … the singing of our National Anthem. I see it especially among younger fans. I’ve seen people talking and unfocused … entire student sections distracted throughout. I’m not saying it reflects an absolute complacency, but rather a missed opportunity to remind ourselves not to take things for granted.

The grandparents of the students seem to be more focused. It just kind of makes you wonder.

This past year, I saw an exception. Our local high school was playing a Friday night basketball game against Naperville North … the “cross-town” rival. The gym was packed and the student sections were energized for this critical conference game. As the “routine” of the playing of our National Anthem began, I heard hundreds of voices. It was loud and clear … and I assumed it to be part of the recorded CD that was playing in the gym. That was until I looked to the other side of the gym and noticed the entire Naperville North student section singing the National Anthem at the top of their lungs. I don’t know exactly what motivated their actions, but I do know their actions were refreshing.

Rituals having a way of reminding us … if we choose to let them.

This past week, I was reminded we shouldn’t take things for granted. As I watched the demonstrations in Iran, it made me realize what we are so likely to take for granted in America. America is not without its flaws, struggles and historical blemishes. But it is in the midst of the freedom of its heart and soul that we are able to refine the greatest social experience in the history of the world. And this little routine, in the singing of our National Anthem, might just be one of the places we can remind ourselves of the blessings we experience each day to be part of this incredible experience called America.

If we take the big things “for granted” then how easy it becomes to take it all for granted. This next week, we will celebrate America in communities across this great nation. Hundreds of thousands of fireworks will be launched from sea to shining sea … and I suspect millions of people will watch them. Many will watch without a second thought about America and the incredible, albeit imperfect, blessing it is to be a part of it. And in the midst of their complacency … a piece of America is taken.

And when America is taken for granted, it likely doesn’t stop there. “Taken” is contagious. It penetrates companies, families and the blessings as plentiful as the fireworks themselves. But it simply doesn’t have to be that way.

Remember … rituals having a way to remind you … if we choose to let them.

The next time you stand for the National Anthem, I would suggest you … sing it out. So, you say, you don’t know the words? No problem. Here they are:

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

You can’t sing? So what? I am sure there were a lot of students in the Naperville North student section who couldn’t sing either … but together they sounded incredible. So sing it anyway … and never take for granted you have the opportunity to do so. I see … no one else around you is singing? Who cares. Just remember, thousands of others have taken far bigger risks to leave you with the freedom to sing whatever you want when you want to. If for nothing else, sing for them. They will appreciate it.

Jennifer Hudson returned to the national spotlight at the beginning of this year’s Super Bowl. She had fought through an unimaginable tragedy in the multiple murders within her family back in Chicago. Ironically, it was the National Anthem that set the stage for her triumphant return. If you saw it, you know what I mean. If it didn’t, you should take a look: SUPER BOWL XLIII. Even if you did, you should take a look again. If it doesn’t stir your heart and soul … something has been taken from you. And my take is that it is more than just America.

Happy Birthday, America! May God continue to bless you … and open our eyes to wherever blindness has caused us to take anything for granted.