I wish my gratitude wasn’t dependent on your misery, but sometimes it is. I’m sorry about that, especially with this being the season of giving thanks and all.
The other day I woke up in a foul mood. I fluffed my pillow with an enthusiasm that bordered on violence. Facing the same old, same old, sitting in the same chair, staring at the same computer seemed like, oh, I don’t know, work.
And then I remembered a friend who has been without a job for nearly a year and I found myself thankful.
Not long after that I saw your car in a parking lot. It had a big dent in the front and the grill was messed up. My car is getting old and dinged these days, but it’s not as bad as yours, so I was thankful.
Sometimes I wish our son lived closer so we could see his family more often. And then I ran into a friend whose daughter lives in London. Ours kids at least live on the same continent that we do, so I was thankful.
There you have it: Thanksgiving relativity—thanksgiving predicated on the notion that it can always be worse.
It’s like that saying, “I wept because I had no shoes and then I met a man with no feet.”
That’s all fine and good for the man with no shoes (he’s feeling pretty good about himself now), but where does that leave the man with no feet? What’s he supposed to do?
A verse in the Old Testament (Psalms 22:3) says God inhabits the praises of his people. If that is true, I wonder where he is living these days. Our praises often seem a bit tenuous.
When our thankfulness is based on having something better, easier or slightly more comfortable than someone else, it’s not gratitude as much as it is an unspoken competition.
While it is always a source of comfort that things haven’t gotten as bad as they could, and probably will, that is not the essence of thankfulness.
What if the Pilgrims had that attitude at the first Thanksgiving?
They would have been quietly giving thanks that they had better clothing than their guests. “This smock may be worn slick and threadbare, but at least my thighs are covered.”
The Indians could have been giving thanks that they didn’t have to eat those bland dishes the Pilgrims kept trotting out. “No wonder they put them on a boat and sent them out to sea.”
The celebrants at the first Thanksgiving didn’t need a measuring stick of comparison to give thanks. They trusted the faithfulness of God all the while living the rhythm of plenty and want, life and death, joy and sorrow. Shortly after that first Thanksgiving marked by abundance, the Pilgrims fell on hard times and suffered again. Yet they continually marked their calendars with days of thanksgiving. They accepted their reality, both the suffering and the ease, and continued to be thankful.
Not a bad model to follow.