This is the month of Thankfulness. All you have to do is log on Facebook to affirm it. Many friends participate and show their gratitude by posting a different thing they are thankful for each day leading up to Thanksgiving. While it’s good to give thanks for our blessings, Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The Turkey,” made me reflect on both the grace God provides in ordinary life, as well as what he asks of his disciples.
The story begins with Ruller, an 11-year-old boy “playing by himself” in the woods when he spots an injured turkey. He figures it must be at least ten pounds. Once Ruller realized that it couldn’t even fly, he determined he was going to get that turkey. What a gift God was giving him! Immediately, he began to think about all the glory that would come his way when he came home with a wild turkey over his shoulder. This news would surely make the list of things his parents would talk about in bed. Unbeknownst to them, Ruller stayed awake, carefully hanging on to every word of their pillow talk. Eventually dad would ask, “How are the boys?” each night. Although a bit peculiar, he was faring better than his older brother Hane, who was wearing his mother “to a frazzle” with his rebellious behavior. “Hane played pool and smoked cigarettes and sneaked in at twelve-thirty and boy he thought he was something.”
Now Ruller was really going to be something to talk about when he victoriously brought home this turkey. Until the chase ran his head straight into a tree branch that cleaned his clock. By the time he realized what he had done, Ruller was on his back and the turkey was nowhere in sight. “It was like somebody had played a dirty trick on him.” That turkey was dangled in front of him as a prize that he couldn’t have. As Ruller now conceded that he was going to go home beat up and empty-handed, the cursing began. First it was just “nuts,” and then “Oh hell.” But this bad providence sent Ruller into cursing God’s name in a way that would make his grandma’s “teeth fall in her soup.” The turkey that got away had Ruller considering, even relishing, the glory he would get as a bad boy. Hane had nuthin’ on him.
The turkey hadn’t escaped after all. It was just behind the thicket. Ruller began to think maybe God had put the turkey there to keep him from going bad. When he finally captured that turkey, he decided to take the long way home through town. Now that he was getting the glory for this spectacular hunt, Ruller grew thankful for this gift from God. In fact, he pledged to give the dime that his grandma had given him to a beggar on the way home. What a good boy he was.
Aren’t we so often the same way? God gives us our heart’s desire and we soak up all the glory for ourselves, parading our accomplishments over our shoulder through town. When God is handing out the blessings, we acknowledge his great favor. But perhaps God’s greatest gift to Ruller was knocking him upside the head with that branch, exposing his sinful nature when he thought his pursuit was for naught. As he was fantasizing about the acclaim of his family members and townsmen, it never occurred to Ruller that God didn’t want the dime from his grandma. God wanted the very thing he gave him. And God was to get the glory.
That’s the ironic twist to the story as Ruller was showing his turkey off to some country boys. In the midst of his own glory as a hunter and giver to the poor, his foolishness didn’t see it coming. Only this time, it didn’t take a branch to clean his clock. Just some country boys who tricked him into handing them the turkey. Now all he had to show was a bruised and dirty body.
What kind of boy was he going to be now? Our God is good, but it isn’t because of the things he gives us. A studier of his Word will know that the cross comes before the crown. The life of the disciple is one of self-denial. God always deserves all the glory, even in his severe mercies of taking away what we treasure above him. The almighty God is our ultimate blessing. He is our great reward.
*Originally posted on 11/16/2012