Last night in a conversation with my teacher daughter (Wow! Age slips on by) we discussed some exercises in thankfulness. I was reminded that the official proclamation for the US to designate and celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday came during the Civil War. In a time of great loss and suffering there are reasons for thankfulness. The issue with us defining those things may be difficult as our current realities may seem crushing or mundane and we find ourselves struggling with how to define what we are thankful for.
As someone who spends a lot of time with students I often hear parents chide them for not being thankful for the following; food, shelter, clothing, etc. Usually the list the parents give is the same list that they would give if they were asked to detail what they provided for their children. While it’s certainly a good idea to be thankful for those things many of our kids have never known life without those things and as they struggle to adapt to abstract thinking they really can’t imagine not having them if they have never experienced that reality. Also, parents, if you’re telling your child to be thankful for the stuff that you are providing they get the implication; all hail the mighty parents.
Here’s an exercise that our students will use on Wednesday and one that I want to challenge some of my adult friends with as well. Let’s pick three ways to be thankful.
First, pick something that you are thankful for today that you may not remember in a few days. In other words, something that in the long term seems inconsequential and yet brought hope and joy to your life over the last day or so.
For me this is the smell of cleaning products. They just ‘smell’ clean. I know that this is probably because we associate the smell with the results and the task, and yet it brings some joy when I use them.
Second, pick something that is ongoing in your life that you are thankful for. Try to think of something that is happening on a regular basis and how it might be shaping your life. Maybe it’s a goal that you are working towards, or a regular task that or partnership that you are thankful to join.
I’m thankful for how the gathering restrictions have forced me to become broader and yet more succinct in my teaching opportunities. It’s an ongoing struggle but looking into the lens of a camera and knowing that the timer is spinning makes me reconsider the importance factor of each point that I might share.
Third, and this is where it just gets fun for me. List the things that you will be thankful for in 5 years, 10 years, and on down the road. I’ll promise you this, that what you will begin to see is that these are the things that you are thankful for now. Give it a try, and while you’re beginning to think I’ll list a few of my own.
I know that I’ll be thankful for every day I’ve spent with my wife. Riding to Brunswick while listening to podcasts – and interrupting the podcast to pontificate on what I think about the topic – and her listening so patiently. I’ll be thankful for every time she said she was tired and I left work to take her a coffee. I’ll be thankful for every time that she could have just chilled and yet she went and made something special for her family. I’ll be thankful for every ‘I love you’, every morning we slept in, and every morning that the children prevented that. I’ll be thankful for every time we argued and didn’t let it define us and for every time that we chose not to argue. I’ll be thankful that she said ‘yes’ over 22 years ago and in our love and care for each other and our family we say ‘yes’ over and over again each day.
I’ll be thankful for every ride to school with the kids. Listening to Imagine Dragons, Lauren Daigle, Daily Scripture podcasts; and just riffing on teacher’s names, friends, and making up songs while talking and dodging squirrels. I’ll be thankful for every night that I set alarms on my phone to wake me up in the middle of the night to check and make sure a child is home; whether with me or someone else. I’ll be thankful for every time I was told about a trade in a sports league or a score for a game I didn’t know was happening, while being simultaneously updated on some scenario including people I don’t know.
I’ll be thankful for every time that I took care of a bill for an adult child, or gave them something unexpected. I’ll be thankful for every time that I told Christy that they would just have to tough out their situation on their own – and then agonizing as we watched them do it. I’ll be thankful for every note they write me, every text they send, and I’ll be thankful for their silence as they learn to navigate life on their own. I’ll be thankful for every time they crowd the kitchen while we’re cooking and how a week’s worth of leftovers never winds up making it to the fridge. I’ll be thankful for every time that they tell me they are going out with friends and that I don’t need to cook for them that night – and then we do have a week of leftovers that rarely get eaten.
I’ll be thankful for every foster child that we love. I’ll be thankful for every time that we look at each other and think we can’t do more and then; well, we get another chance to love and realize how you can just keep pouring it out.
I’ll be thankful for group text messages with friends and family. To trust and know others well enough to ignore and respond. Then respond and ignore. Then chide. Then be corrected. To hear another perspective and passion when you feel drained, caution when you’re angry.
I’ll be thankful for every book I’ve read. To hear someone share about a topic they’ve studied, or to glimpse their imagination about life is a privilege that never gets old.
I’ll be thankful for every time I tried to articulate what it means to follow the way of Jesus. To struggle with how this defines my life, and how I want others to embrace the daily reality of God’s presence.
So there you go. What are you thankful for? Something that seems simple and fleeting. Something that is ongoing. Something that you will look back on and realize how blessed you were. Write somethings down and see what you discover about your life.