In my last blog post, I said that thankfulness is both a duty we work at and a gift we receive. I like the way Lewis Smedes put it, “Gratitude dances through the open windows of our heart. We cannot force it. We cannot create it. And we can certainly close our windows to keep it out. But, we can also keep them open and be ready for joy when it comes.” So what are some of these windows that we can learn to keep open so that gratitude might enter? Here are a few:
Learn to celebrate imperfect gifts. This may sound like blasphemy, but not all God’s gifts are perfect gifts. Are you ever thankful for your children? For your family? For your friends? Of course you are. But, are they perfect? Of course not. In 1 Cor 1:4 Paul says to the church in Corinth, “I thank my God always concerning you…” He then went on and in the rest of the letter he rebuked everything from sexual immorality to spiritual pride. Paul had learned to celebrate imperfect gifts. People who demand perfection choke gratitude before it has a chance to blossom.
Keep in mind that we are always thankful for one thing in spite of another. One day I was driving down the road feeling very thankful. Then I remembered a woman I’d seen just a few days earlier in the hospital who had died. Immediately I thought to myself, “What right do I have to be so thankful for my life when someone else’s was just devoured by cancer? How can I rejoice over my healthy children when someone else’s child was just run over by a car? How can I be glad for my full plate of food when someone else’s is empty?” Thoughts like this turn gratitude into shame. But if we wait till no one ever dies, we’ll never be thankful for our own life. If we wait till every child is healthy, we’ll never be grateful for our own children. If we wait till every beggar has a plate of food, we’ll never be thankful for our daily bread. Sometimes the “in spite of’s” hit closer to home. How can I be thankful for my job when my family is a mess? How can I be thankful for the roof over my head when I can’t afford to buy the house I really want? But, we can and we must or else we shut out gratefulness from our lives forever. We’re always thankful for one thing in spite of another.
Saying some thanks primes the pump of gratitude. There are times for all of us when, if someone tells us that life is a gift, we’d just as soon give it back. There’s too much trouble, too much pain. But, even in those times, in a raw act of our will, we can say thanks anyway. And when we do, the window for gratitude stays open. Feelings are strange and unreliable things. We can never know when saying something we don’t feel will prime the pump and get that feeling flowing. C.S. Lewis said the line between pretending to feel something and beginning to feel it is too thin for a moral bloodhound to sniff. So go ahead and pretend, because it might fan the flame of something already lit. One of the most helpful ways to do this is to keep certain times and places set aside for thanksgiving. Times like November 22, 2012. Times like Sunday mornings. Times like each time you sit down to eat a meal.
So there you go, three ways to open the windows of your life up to gratitude. Maybe you can come up with a few more. We ought to be grateful, but we don’t always feel like it. And believing that God wants more for us than just going through the motions, these are ways to be ready for it when it comes.