Thursday, November 24, 2016

An Attitude of Gratitude

At some point today, most of us will be asked what it is that we are thankful for. We will be given an opportunity to mention, by name and by detail, those persons and things that markedly improve and bless our lives in some meaningful way. And that's great.

But gratitude is an attitude. Thankfulness is a matter of the heart.

That means a couple of things for our holiday celebration. First, it's okay if you can't think of anything specific to "be thankful for" around your table this year. I think a lot of times, that comes off as ungrateful. It comes off as non-participatory. But if thankfulness is an orientation of the heart, an attitude, then it doesn't require an object, necessarily. It is okay to just be thankful without putting a lot of details to it.

I struggle with this. I struggle with this because when I say that I am thankful for _______, I am immediately aware of all the things for which I am thankful that are excluded by that one particular choice. And now, I feel guilty for having chosen that one thing over and above all others to name by name. For guilt, I am never thankful. So must I name by name all of the things for which I am thankful, lest I leave someone or something out? We will be here all day!

But if I just sit back with a simple little smile on my face, sipping sparkling cranberry juice and laughing heartily with those around my table, is this not my thankfulness? Is this not the very thing which we seek to celebrate in this season, on this day? It is okay today to simply be thankful, not for any specific thing (or perhaps even for every specific thing), but just to embrace a general thankfulness that quiets the spirits and deepens the laughter and embraces the joy.

Our thankfulness runs much deeper than the blessings that we can name.

The second thing that an attitude of thankfulness means for our holiday celebration is that if our thanksgiving is confined only to a passing of thanks around the table, we're doing it wrong.

If you're yelling and screaming at your kids to get in the car so you can make it to Aunt Judy's on time. If you're tripping over your loved ones in the kitchen as you work to set up your award-winning sweet potatoes while they're finishing up their green bean casserole, and you both end up swearing under your breath and perhaps not so much under your breath. If you're fighting over which parade to watch, how loud the television will be, and at what point to switch over to the football pre-game. If you can't find the brown sugar that you know you just bought, and no one seems to be willing to get up and come help. If you end up yelling, screaming, cursing, crying, biting the heads of the ones you love most deeply just minutes or hours before sitting around a table with them and giving them your thanks, you're doing it wrong. 

Because it's hard to believe you're a genuinely thankful person if absolutely nothing in your attitude reflects that. If something in your spirit hasn't settled into thankfulness today, then simply speaking your thanks over a certain blessing in your life is not likely to redeem what is broken in you. (Maybe it will; I don't know. But I know that for me, when my spirit is seething and I speak my thanks through gritted teeth, it doesn't quite feel valuable. It doesn't feel authentic. It doesn't feel real. Not only do I feel fake, but everyone else feels my fakeness, too.) 

You know what? I'm going to say it - it's okay this Thanksgiving, if the holiday has brought out the stress in you, if you're having trouble getting your attitude to center in gratitude, to simply say that. It's okay to say, "This Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for you, for my people. But to be honest, I am struggling today to get my heart in accord with that. So I apologize." 

It's okay to be thankful and sorry this Thanksgiving.

And you know what? It's okay to not be thankful at all. If you're not feeling it, if you've had your share of struggles lately, if this whole big thing has got your stress levels running high and you're just ready for this to all be over, if you just can't muster one even half-genuine-sounding thanks today, that's okay. Show up anyway. Enjoy your people. Pass your plate. And let it be what it's going to be. 

Happy feasting to you and yours, on this day of thanks.

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