I’m quite sure I’m not alone with a heavy heart this week:
…a senseless attack on campus, three students injured, one paralyzed from the waist down, and a young, mentally ill man dead.
…a young Deputy Sheriff killed in the line of duty, another one injured.
…violence, looting, torched businesses, police car windows shattered, tears and anguish on both sides, in Ferguson, Missouri.
…the barbaric beheading of a young man by ISIS.
And then there are the things we are personally dealing with: the death of a loved one, being laid off from a job, a scary cancer prognosis…I’m sure you can name your own.
And tomorrow is Thanksgiving! Thankfulness? Seriously? Oh, I know I can say all the right “spiritual” things in such circumstances, all the right clichés. It’s harder to be thankful when you’re IN the circumstance, isn’t it? There is a shroud of grief and disbelief around me, but I know that there is something powerfully transformative in this space. Rather than destroying my gratitude, this period is rekindling it in an even deeper way.
Our “ideal” picture-perfect Thanksgiving shows a table overladen with food in a very nicely decorated room, with a joyous family gathered around. It is a happy picture. Yet this beautiful feast is steeped in dark times.
The iconic picture we have for that first Thanksgiving feast is the Plymouth pilgrims sharing a meal with the Wampanoag Indians. Yet, this feast happened after half of their party had succumbed to starvation and disease. Life was not easy for them. Death had been all too present, but a harvest gave them hope for the future. And so they feasted-and gave thanks.
Skip ahead to 1863, and the United States is not so united after all, but waging a bloody war which amounted to more being killed than in any other American war. Family members were fighting each other on opposite sides of the conflict, primitive doctoring probably killed more people than they saved, and there was hardly a family that had not known deep loss and sorrow because of the war. It was hard to see the light of hope during those very dark years.
It was into those dark days that Abraham Lincoln made the Thanksgiving Proclamation. In it, the president pointed out what they did have to be thankful for… peace with other countries during a time of turmoil within, a harvest uninterrupted from the war, and an abundance from mines. He also called for repentance for personal sins, as well as prayers for those widowed and orphaned among them. This is where our national holiday began. It started in some of the darkest days of our country’s history.
The point is this: many are facing hard times in many different ways. Yet, it is in dark days that our souls probably need a day to sit back and count the things we do have to be thankful for. When we are most discouraged, we need the most encouragement. Too often our sorrows overshadow our blessings in our mind. There is always going to be death, sickness, lack of money, sorrow, worry, and pain while we are on this earth. Some are living through especially difficult circumstances. But let tomorrow not be a day of trouble and inconveniences, but rather a day to count our blessings, as few or as many as they may be. In doing so, we follow the example of those who also chose to give thanks during very difficult times.
I believe that thankfulness during hard times is so important because it helps give hope for the future. When you can find nothing to be thankful for, then what is there to live for? Meister Eckhart, a well-known mystic, believed that thanking God was the most important prayer. Prophets and monks know that gratitude brings you closer to God. Even if you’re not religious, gratitude enables you to see your life in a larger context beyond your immediate troubles. Gratitude shifts your perspective from depression, anger, envy or self-pity to happiness. It can open your heart to joy and generosity, because you begin to feel you are blessed
Gratefulness comes more easily to some than others. When you’re discouraged or weighed down with negative thoughts, let me suggest a few things you can do to develop an attitude of gratitude:
1. Count your blessings. Listing the things for which you’re grateful can generate feelings of appreciation and gratitude. Write them down daily. Start with small things: seeing a child smile, receiving a compliment from a co-worker, accomplishing something on your ‘to do’ list,
2. Throughout the day, thank others for their help, especially people you don’t ordinarily thank like the cashier, mail man or garbage man.
3. Compliment others. Giving compliments shows appreciation and lifts others’ mood as well as yours. I believe everyone we meet has four letters emblazoned on their forehead..M.M.F.I…Make Me Feel Important!
4. Write unexpected thank you notes. Writing your appreciation prompts warm feelings that engender gratitude.
5. Do random acts of kindness. Give someone your place in line, help someone pay for a purchase, or take some flowers to a friend or neighbor who needs a lift.
6. Give others the benefit of the doubt…you never know what another person is going through.
Well I’ve rambled on long enough. Be grateful I’m done! In fact, write that down…it can start today’s gratitude list!
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of love, laughter and gratitude!
You are loved,