Here is where I attempt to not write an overly-cliché “November = Thanksgiving” article. Bear with me, if you would.
I am good at being grateful in blips. A traffic jam strikes during a commute, and I am reminded to have gratitude that I own a car. However, when the jam breaks, my mind quickly moves to the meeting I am heading to, or the counseling session I’m facilitating. The moment of gratitude slips away faster than (insert your personal favorite slippery image here).
I can lament with the best when it comes to the stresses of air travel, but there is a moment when my body is being pelted with low-grade radiation at the x-ray machine that I do experience a moment of thanks for not having to drive 13 hours to my destination. But, not long after I am seated between two offensive linemen on the plane, does my mind quickly transition to frustration and questions about who actually gets to use the armrest (in this case, I get neither).
It’s that pattern of thankfulness that I experience the most; a tool used against the frustration I reach when things don’t happen the way that I want them to. In this way, I feel like my gratitude is cheapened some, in that I access it as leverage in a moment, rather than making it a regular rhythm of my life. If gratitude could be turned into a currency to pay the debt of impatience or frustration, then consider me the Warren Buffett of it.
And that’s why I continue to seek a new rhythm to my thankfulness. I’ve found Thomas Merton’s thoughts on thankfulness to be incredibly instructive.
“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” – Thomas Merton
It’s that “every breath we draw” kind of thankfulness that I want to embody in my life. Doesn’t that sound like such a radical approach to life? It becomes so easy to be drawn into the minutiae of the urgent, and to lose touch with the present and ever radiating gifts of life. It’s the longer road to take, but to journey towards perpetual thankfulness is a move towards the heart of Jesus.
“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” – (Jesus in Luke 22:32-24)
What if our treasure was gratitude? How would that change our life’s course? I get the feeling that our relationships and our calling in life could not help but be transformed if that were the case.
Walter Brueggemann described the narrative of abundance in which Jesus has invited us to participate as made of up thankfulness, contentment, generosity, and peacefulness. This counters what Brueggemann calls the narrative of accumulation, which starts with an ideology of scarcity that leads to anxiety, selfish accumulation, monopoly and ultimately, violence. Thankfulness is the cornerstone to the practice of abundance, and the extinction of the practice of accumulation.
And so, a rhythm of thankfulness leads to contentment.
This becomes obvious to all who practice it. When we take the time to “count our blessings,” our eyes are opened to the abundance with which God has blessed us. Anyone can take part in this. Anyone can see it. From the deepest depths of the ghetto to the most pristine gated communities, all who practice thankfulness will realize abundance, and will find themselves in the practice of contentment. Scarcity says “there is not enough”; thankfulness says, “look how much there is!” Scarcity says “I need!”; thankfulness says “I have.” A framework of scarcity results in discontentment whereas thankfulness propels towards fulfillment.
And so, a rhythm of thankfulness leads to generosity.
Because thankfulness directs our practice to abundance; because it emphasizes how much one has rather than what one is lacking, thankfulness leads to generosity. Scarcity instructs one to anxiety, in which someone does not have enough and must acquire more. This anxiety leads to accumulation. All eyes are on the needs, desires, and interests of themselves.
Thankfulness, then, is the opposite. In causing realizing the abundance we are subject to, the contentment we experiences as a result will inspire a sharing of that abundance. In realizing abundance, we realizes that there is all that is needed and more. So, there is enough for others. Contentment and gratitude naturally inspire generosity.
And so, a rhythm of thankfulness leads to peacefulness.
This is the peace that moves us beyond the need to accumulate, or have, or chase. This is the peace of the divine, which is a counter to the clamoring of the world around us. In thankfulness we can find rest.
If you find yourself engaging in an world of scarcity, in which you think you do not have enough, in which you focus on your needs and how you are going to acquire them, this is where you can begin the practice of thankfulness. If you have treated gratitude as a commodity rather than as a discipline to anchor your soul in, then you, like me, can begin a habit of continual thanks. Allow your moments of thankfulness to open your eyes to God’s abundance, and then those moments become longer ones. Stretch them into new places into your life, and observe how the changes in your life begin to take place. It will lead you to contentment, generosity, and peace.
Grace and Peace,