Yesterday I was in a great deal of pain. We drove to the doctor's office, hoping for some relief. For distraction, in the car, on the way, beloved husband and I were discussing some things we had read and watched lately, concerning thankfulness. Gratefulness, thanksgiving, is all the buzz right now. People are trying to incorporate it into their daily lives, and so of course it is running all over my FB news feed....most especially this month, with Thanksgiving (the holiday) on its way, but also before that for quite some time.
When we arrived, we sat in the waiting room, and I thumbed through a magazine, that announced the benefit of thankfulness as one of its cover pieces. I was anxious to read it, since it seemed to continue the discussion we had been having in the car. I wondered it if would add anything to the buzz I had been hearing for some time now, and it did.
The thing about thankfulness, is that it seems so obvious. I did a bible word search the other day, and almost every time you find the word thanks, thankful, thanksgiving....you find the words joy, goodness, mercy, grace. And of course it makes perfect sense. God gives us the good stuff, and our natural response is thanksgiving.
Or, not so much. Because seriously, if that's the case, Americans should be the happiest, most joyful, most thankful people on the planet. And even more than that, American children should be. But we're not, and they're not. We might acknowledge that we should be, but we are definitely not.
You say, Wait! The new information coming in says we have it all backwards, oddly enough. Being thankful isn't a byproduct, not by a long shot. Being thankful is the fuel. Happiness, and comfort, and blessing don't produce thankfulness....instead thankfulness produces those things. Or perhaps it just removes the scales from our eyes, and lets us see what has been there all along. And perhaps when we can see the beauty of our own lives, we are free to make more of it.
The piece that I read yesterday, spoke of how unnatural this process is. How quickly we as human creatures move from gratefulness to apathy to complaint. The author spoke of a device, to help safeguard against this natural progression. She said that we must create rituals of thankfulness. She freely acknowledged that this was not an original idea. She pointed to the ritual of saying grace before a meal.
It made me think of how many times I have heard both children and adults alike, advocate for switching grace to the end of the meal. Whenever some clever soul has brought this novel concept up for review, I have always heard the same points covered. That we should give thanks when we are "really thankful", implying that when we have enjoyed our meal and filled ourselves, that is the point of true thankfulness. And it has never gone unmentioned, that if the meal does not meet our expectations, or is in some way deemed unenjoyable, we can opt out of thankfulness. This is always said as a joke, and followed by a round of laughter, but it is no joke. It is the truest part of the discussion.
This is how we live our lives. We pull up to the table and dig in to the meal spread before us. When we are full, we push ourselves back, and think of what comes next. We forget to give thanks for the meal that was placed before us, and the fullness of our bellies. Even worse, we critique the meal. And as we rise from the table, we wonder about the vague sense of dissatisfaction we carry with us.
The author of the piece wrote of how she had been intentionally creating rituals of thankfulness in her own life, and of course they were unique to her particular situation, but the concept was sound and easily applied elsewhere. So today I went back to my bible word search, and I noticed something I had missed previously. Before, I had skimmed over all of the references in the early books. The ones that talked about making sacrifices and offerings. In my mind, these verses didn't apply. They were just some ancient code that I didn't follow or even know much about. But this time, as I scrolled through dozens of references, I realized that I was looking at just what the buzz is all about.
Thanksgiving is a sacrifice. It is laying the table like an altar. We carefully lay the cloth, place the dishes, bring the food that we've prepared. We call the household members to the table, and everyone finds their place. And then we join together in the ritual of thankfulness. Our eyes are closed to the beauty of the table. We hope that the food will be nourishing and enjoyable. We hope for enough. But how can we know? And yet we give thanks.
May we realize that we pull up to the table a hundred, nay, perhaps a thousand times a day. May we stop mistaking the food on the table for the fuel of life. Instead, may we learn to lay the table like an altar and pause to give thanks, every single time.