"I am thankful for . . ." How many families in the United States will gather around the table before they eat their Thanksgiving meal. But sometimes we reach holidays not feeling thankful but worn down, weary and feeling anything but gratitude. It doesn't help when your week starts with a car that doesn't and, so much of what unfolds after, doesn't get any better. I can think of a million reasons to be ungrateful and to withhold my thanks. Struggles and difficulties often tend to choke out any ounce of gratitude coming from my lips or from taking root in my heart.
Then I read what Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-7, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."
Abounding in thanksgiving. I want to say, "Pass." I want to say, "Lord, sometimes you kind of suck." Especially when I'm feeling that he's not in my corner or not even there at all.
I tend to walk the same paths when I go on nature walks. Each time I go on these walks, I see something different or I see something differently. Perhaps it's the season of the year that transforms the trees and plants around me. Right now, I see bare trees or ones whose leaves are golden or red.
Even on my walks, when I stop and become rooted or present to the space I am standing in at that moment, I may see something I would not have seen had I simply kept plowing forward. Today, I saw a lizard sleeping in the warmth of the sun. There was such a look of contentment on his face that I actually felt jealous of him.
When I started my walk, I didn't feel grateful or thankful. I felt frustrated and upset. I felt perplexed by the lack of what I saw as God's concern for a situation going on in our family. Yet, as I walked, as I stopped thinking and, instead, started being mindful, my attitude began to change. Why? Because to be grateful is to be mindful. Gratefulness and mindfulness are connected.
I was grateful for the beauty of the trees, grateful for that lizard, grateful for the reflection in the water . . .
I was grateful that my two sons were walking with me. Sometimes in conversation. Sometimes in silence. I was grateful that they appreciated both.
I was grateful that my younger son had brought his nature journal along with him and would stop to take notes or to collect leaves that caught his eye and he found of interest.
Emerson was right.
As I walked, I found myself cultivating gratitude. I found myself going from asking, "Why God?" to simply saying, "Thank you."
Cultivation is not an easy process. It's not an instant or overnight process. One cannot easily or without work and effort cultivate a garden. Nor can one quickly or simply cultivate a spirit of gratitude. It is a daily effort. It is a choosing to say, "Thank you" even when we don't feel thankful. It is stopping, rooting ourselves to be present and looking for something in our lives to be grateful for. When we move from complaint to gratitude, we move from being self-focused to finding that sweet, tender movement of grace that runs throughout our lives but can often and easily go overlooked because we are too distracted by what we don't have or what's not going our way.
My younger son, as we walked, asked, "Are we going to say what we are thankful for tomorrow?"
"Do you want us to?" I asked, curious to see if he would prefer to skip this and go straight to eating.
"YES!" he enthusiastically replied.
"Why do you want to?"
"Because it makes me stop and think," he answered, "of what I am thankful for."
"And what are you thankful for?"
"My family," was the first thing out of his mouth. "I am thankful for birds and for trees and for leaves and for this walk."
"Me too, buddy," I smiled.
So often, he cannot see the good of the present because of the pain from his past (He spent the first eight years of his life in the orphanage system). He has a hard time of winnowing out the negative to find the positive. He sees it as all cut and dry, black and white. It's either all good or all bad. It's why I ask him each night, "Tell me one good thing that happened to you today?" Even on his worst days, when he has struggled and lost, when he's made a bad choice and is paying the consequences, we always stop to sift and find the glimpse of grace that is always, always there in our lives. It's important for him to find these small glimpses so that he can see the love of God is with him even when he makes mistakes, when he feels he's failed, and when he believes that there is nothing good about himself or good about his day. It's also a reminder to myself to do the same.
The Message translates those verses in Colossians this way, "My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving."
I love that last part. "And let your living spill over into thanksgiving."
As my sons and I walked a trail we have walked so many times previously, this walk was different and unique because I found my life spilling over into thanksgiving, into gratitude, into grace. Gratitude reminded me that all of this is a gift: both the joy and pain - and that's the paradox. One would not find meaning in the joy if it weren't balanced out by equally finding meaning in the pain. All is precious.
After my walk, I, like the poet e e cummings, want to shout out: