From The Bottom Up: Finding Gratitude From Below
I will never forget the time my son was about three and a half. We were barreling towards Christmas and I wanted to be sure his manners were as ready as the Christmas tree was.
We were driving somewhere in the car (the place I find it easiest to talk to him) and I said, “Noah, I want to practice something with you. When someone gives you a gift, what do you say to them?” “THANK YOU” he replied. As the mom of an extremely precocious child I try to always be one step ahead of what may come out of his mouth so I decided to extend the lesson further.
“I have another question for you, if someone gives you a gift you don’t like, what do you say?” With the pride of someone who is about to ace an exam he jubilantly replied, “NO THANK YOU.”
It was all I could do not to laugh. While I did not expect a three year old to exhibit stellar manners, this (very logical to him I am sure) answer was not what I expected. What ensued was a conversation about how the person who gives him a gift may think it is something he would like or need and that we show gratitude to the giver even when we don’t like the gift.
I find most of my most profound lessons have always occurred in conversations with children.
At this time of year when you can’t even walk into a department store without every corner admonishing you to “Give thanks” I think it is important to remember that it is the Giver we are thanking even if we don’t like the gift.
It is easy to be grateful when an unpleasant event is over. I know this now more than ever having thought for a month this summer I may have had metastatic cancer. When I got the news from the very baffled doctor that there was nothing, the relief on both are parts was tangible. While I don’t feel like I had a perfect response of gratitude during the waiting I had glimpses of thankfulness (for the closeness I felt to God during this time of panicked dependence, for the literal answer that whatever was there was contained to my shoulder, and the outpouring of love from my tribe).
I have two friends whose experiences recently taught me so much about gratitude DURING the tough times. I have asked their permission to share and they have gladly agreed.
Several months back my friend Shawna's house caught on fire. While many tears have been shed negotiating the depth of loss, the strength and gratitude this family has shown has been amazing. In a recent blog post she wrote:
“While my mind was filled with negative thoughts, I decided my mouth would be filled with positive words. I was determined to have a grateful heart. So I surrendered. Fell to my knees weeping.”
She went on to enumerate the ways she is grateful for all the little details. The boxes cramming the hallways became the reminder of what was not lost in the fire rather than an annoying fact of life. The too small apartment became an adequate roof over their head while waiting to return home. The perspective has really changed the trajectory of the experience.
An amazing twist to this story is she and her husband have been planning to adopt two daughters in the near future. They were faced with the tough decision of whether or not to stay in our small but diverse community they love or move to where they can afford a bigger home. It would be too tight to expand their family in their home. Because they need to rebuild they were able to design their home to accommodate the girls they already cherish but have not yet met.
Where one example comes literally up from the ashes, my other came at the bottom of the stairs.
A few weeks back Linda, who currently lives alone as her daughter is away at college, fell to the bottom of the stairs shattering her ankle. My mind was blown when she told us despite being in the worst pain in her life she IMMEDIATELY began to praise God.
She thanked him for her nursing background that enabled her to pop her foot back into her ankle’s socket, that she had the strength to get to the phone for help, that we live in a time where we have the surgical capability to restore her mobility. She has continued to have amazing experiences in her rehab that are allowing her to grow closer to God and allowing him to use this situation to bless others.
In both of these situations do not miss the fact that this gratitude is mingled with real tears, deep pain and great loss. It is a gratitude born in suffering. A gratitude not for the circumstances but in spite of them.
A realization that the Giver is worthy of praise whether or not we like the gift.