It’s Thanksgiving week in the United States, when it’s almost as important to head home “if only in my dreams” as it is at Christmas. This wonderful holiday, perhaps contrary to secular depiction, gives us an annual opportunity to reset the focus of our lives, recalibrate our values, and recommit to expressing a gratitude attitude as the outflow—even overflow—of a happy heart.
“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G. K. Chesterton
But “it’s easy to be heavy; it’s hard to be light,” admits Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project. She means that lightening up, keeping a positive and cheerful outlook, requires effort and intentionality. Giving into negativity and depression means only drifting along with our natural downward tendencies.
You might think it should be the other way around, but if lightheartedness came easy, wouldn’t everyone wear a smile? Slogging out of the swamp of ingratitude—manifested in impatience, frustration, dissatisfaction—goes against the grain.
So I’ll confess (somewhat shamefacedly) with Gretchen that I frequently suffer from a serious lack of this gratitude attitude. Perhaps I could blame it on a genetic flaw. However, not just in my family tree. The trouble’s endemic to the entire human race.
Last year we went “home” to Maine for Thanksgiving. Once-in-a-decade special, thanks to my sister and sister-in-law. This year we’ll share with some American friends who’ve lived here in Chile longer than we have. We don’t necessarily need to go home for the holidays to find full and grateful hearts.
After all, sometimes expat life feels like home after almost 40 years. You can even get pretty comfortable when you’re away that long.
But other times, it just feels like 40 years in the wilderness, and every one of them weighs heavy. You can settle…often into a deep groove of grousing and grumbling. I’m telling you, the Israelites harping in the desert sounded like a choir compared to my broken record.
I guess we’ve experienced a drought of praise at our house this year. As one of our Thanksgiving traditions, we pass around a basket of unpopped corn while we recount our year’s blessings. And there’ve been days I felt as dried up as those “old maid” corn kernels.
“The soul that gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul that complains can find comfort in nothing.” –Hannah Whitall Smith
It’s fearfully challenging to reflect on what’s needed to make popcorn burst into light yet satisfying flavor. Besides butter and salt, it demands heat. That’s right, HEAT, one of the indispensable elements in good cooking.
Every time I pass through the fires of exasperation, I ought to remind myself that this process can transform the unpalatable into something delicious and nutritious. The gratitude attitude reimagines everything.
Droplet Gift #40: Change my grumbling rut to reverberating songs of praise.
“What if we were simply grateful for what we already have?” asks designer/author/pastor’s wife Melissa Michaels in a recent post at The Inspired Room.
Instead of venting about every minor vexation around my unfinished house, I could verbalize, as loudly and clearly, how grateful I am that I have a home to clean, cook in, and cozy up inside. Instead of complaining about my persistent health issues, I could praise God for healing my voice following Covid. (Forgive my repetition if I’ve already mentioned that in this venue. But music is a really big deal!)
What if, instead of whining about the loss of my loved ones, I were more thankful that some will visit in Chile over this holiday season? Surely, that’s the highlight of a lifetime.
“Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” –Doris Day
With the recent homegoing of a beloved aunt, I could thank God for the rich blessing of her life instead of lamenting the distance and my absence. And we could all extend that same gratitude attitude to dozens of other people who’ve made a difference in our lives.
Let’s think of our countries while we’re on a roll, too. American presidents from Washington to Trump have expressed thanksgiving to Almighty God for His providence in human history and for His manifold provisions to us as a nation. Canada holds its Thanksgiving celebration in early October, as befits a country where early cold and snow shorten the harvest period.
In Chile we don’t have any official government-endorsed Thanksgiving Day—and dear God, we could surely use it! However, in the churches, an annual thanksgiving event usually takes place in late fall/early winter (May-July), depending on the schedule of activities in each congregation. In the agricultural south, thanks may consist of a true cornucopia of grain and vegetables given as gifts to priests and pastors. In the rest of the country, monetary offerings toward special projects will be promoted.
Unlike in the US and Canada, any kind of Thanksgiving celebration here won’t involve fussing in the kitchen, nor a groaning table and loosened belts, followed by football and shopping. (Although with the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this month, a different kind of fútbol might show up!)
But our thanksgivings—low-key as they are—are directed toward God and express a gratitude attitude in a tangible way. Perhaps even the formal Te Deum praise services held every September as part of Fiestas Patrias recognize in some simple sense the part God plays in our country and the world.
Sadly, Chile never had a truly godly heritage nor a long uninterrupted democracy. Yet… despite runaway inflation, sociopolitical unrest, and stress on every side, we still have so much to be thankful for. How about the lowest poverty rate in South America? The most breathtaking landscapes? The moderate climate, the abundant natural resources, the to-die-for street food…
“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” –Brené Brown
It reminds me that sometimes when we don’t appreciate the magnitude of what God has done for us and given to us, we can lose it. Because, taken for granted…
Blessings and privileges don’t last forever.
We would all do well to recall the timely words of President Lyndon B. Johnson: “Should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.” He was speaking of civil rights in the 1960’s, but couldn’t it refer to anything current?
If the gratitude attitude disappears into a bottomless pit of ranting, it hardly matters what else we possess or accomplish.
“Our nation(s) have never more needed earnest…prayer for a reversal of evil and for a revival of faith, for wise and godly leaders, and for peace and goodwill in the world… Our problems are not primarily political, they are moral and spiritual, and the answers are spiritual. They will come to us, not by might nor by power, but only by the Spirit of the Lord.” –Robert J. Morgan, 100 Verses That Made America
Thanks Be to God
In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostle Paul gives us a chilling catalogue of the characteristics of evil men in the last days, the perilous times of lawlessness (see 2 Thess. 2:7). Right in the middle of the list, we note: “…ungrateful, unholy, unloving…” (NASB).
Striking. And ouch. An ungrateful heart fits in with the worst kinds of wickedness.
“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.” –Robert Braathe
I ask myself sincerely, Are we not thankful because deep down (where we squirm to acknowledge this) we believe we deserve more? That the benefits we enjoy belong to us by right or merit? That God is somehow indebted to us?
What if, instead, we employ the language of a genuine gratitude attitude, as in the ancient hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”:
“What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for Thee.” –attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Paul Gerhardt & James Alexander
Above all, touch my heart, O God. Remind me, more than anyone else, not to reflect the attitude of God’s daughter in Zephaniah 3:2 who… “listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.”
Instead, every day this upcoming month, let’s all “enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise…” (Ps. 100:4).
Lord, don’t take me home… until my bucket’s filled with gratitude, to the praise of Your glory. And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my thanks to Thee.