Originally published Nov. 23, 2016.
It’s Thanksgiving: time to dust off a few of the old classics and take them for a spin.
For instance: “Count your blessings.” Do it. Be thankful for people and stuff with all the accompanying flaws and frustrations. There is no perfect world where your every desire can (or ought to) be fulfilled, so I’m proposing we get happy with what we actually have to work with.
Here’s another classic: “Consider those less fortunate and be thankful.” To really do this, you can’t just treat it as an interruption, mumble an acknowledgment and move on. Try starting some earnest, ongoing relationships with people less fortunate (if you haven’t already) and learn from the websites of reputable groups who are impacting the bigger picture. And try it from another tact: set aside your privileges, conveniences, entertainments and credit cards for a week; even taking the bus, bicycle or feet when you normally wouldn’t. Do this, and you’re hitting “reset” to reboot your headspace.
Honestly, we’re functioning so much like materialistic addicts these days that we’re as likely to feel anxious and demanding – though we’re surrounded by so much – as we are to feel thankful during the course of a day. Right? Break free and watch the change come (following withdrawals).
“Count” and “Consider.” The problem comes when we only use these classic prompts in their abbreviated holiday form. It can give the sense that we’re somehow paying the price of admission to the annual feast. It can become the five-minute act of pre-Black Friday penance. It can even imprint the misunderstanding that thankfulness is a byproduct of feeling guilty for what we have. So if the actual giving-of-thanks portion of your holiday feels like the dentist is making a house-call, maybe this is why.
New classic. What if one of the wellsprings of true thankfulness is actually true enjoyment? For those of us raised on Count and Consider, this feels like dangerous ground, so let’s talk it through…
What makes for true enjoyment? It’s not the stuff. We can have what we’ve always wanted (materially or relationally) and become a slave to it by giving it too much time and focus. Destructive compulsions are simply enjoyments taken at too high a concentration. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, we can multiply and dilute our enjoyments to the point that they feel like liabilities: too much expense, clutter, maintenance, debugging and scheduling; too little time actually enjoying them. Slavery again.
It’s when you give the right amount of time and attention to what you have that you most enjoy it. Thin out your surplus possessions, activities and contacts if need be, so they don’t prevent this from happening. Elevate those things which you should (and can) choose to enjoy more… including your spouse… including your God. When you’re really enjoying what you have and recognizing the source, you’ll feel thankful for it. And if, as often as you and I felt thankful for it, we voiced it in some way, imagine the sweet exhaust we’d be breathing throughout the year.
“God… richly provides us with all things* for our enjoyment” and like any good father, he loves to see us really enjoy what he’s given. I’m so thankful for that. For a few important, related tips, read 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
*modern consumers/addicts should note that, even 2,000 years ago, nobody actually took this to mean “all things currently for sale!”
Steve Strombom writes from the Enumclaw Church of the Nazarene.