Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Growing Gratitude

Back in the day when the boys were 2, 3, and 4 years old, it was a little rugged around our house. 

I was plagued by my inability to mother like I thought I should--you know, teaching my toddlers to use their manners, say thank you, and always obey. But since that rarely went planned, I almost always opted to stay home and relish nap time rather than go anywhere. 

Occasionally we ventured to the grocery store where the boys, bit through the hot dog packages, chewed on a bag of chocolate chips until melted chocolate oozed out of a little hole in the bag, and also tipped over the cart.

Needless to say, we didn’t get out much. 
Artwork by Julie Chen of Live Verse Design.
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So when the postman brought a package from the outside world—from Grandma no less-- expectations were high. 

They each ripped open a little present and sat silent for a moment.

With a budding sarcasm I didn’t even know was growing in him, Zach finally said, “Another Hotwheels car. Big surprise.”

The incident prompted the first of many conversations about being grateful when you receive a gift. The same pep talk we will be having again in a couple of weeks: “Whenever you get a gift--regardless of what it is--you should SAY, ‘Thank you. Thank you for thinking of me.’”

And with a few more years of practice we might be able to pull off a convincing gratitude act.

Beyond being polite, it’s the way we remind ourselves that someone spent time, effort, and money with me in mind. This kind of gratitude is rehearsed, polite, and necessary.

Gratitude starts here, but this is not its end.

Contrast that experience with the long suffering experience of hearing the boys plead and beg year after year for a Nintendo Wii. In 2010 on Christmas morning, when they opened two Wii remotes and an empty box, they were confused and breathlessly hopeful.

In a rare moment of parental readiness, I got it on video. 

After a few minutes of urgently explaining to mom and dad that “you need a Wii machine, not just remotes,” we sent them downstairs where the “Wii machine” was ready to be enjoyed.

Elated and excited, Zach and Levi took control of the remotes and Spencer sat down, began smacking his head and said, “I think I’m dreaming!”

Now I realize the cost and anticipation level for a Hotwheels car and a Wii are different. The analogy breaks down here because the Wii is no longer the fulfillment of all our entertainment cravings.

But I use the example to propose that sincere gratitude is born out of the recognition of what we lack. A need. A longing.

It is a strange dichotomy.

A fragile connection exists between pain and pleasure, hunger and fullness, need and thanksgiving. Without the first, it is nearly impossible to explain or experience the other.

Can I truly be thankful for my health when I have not walked through the valley of chronic pain or illness?

Can I truly be thankful for my meal when food has been available every day of my life?

Can I truly be thankful for peace and freedom when I have only read of war?

Can I truly be thankful for God’s forgiveness if I do not accurately understand the extent of my sin?

For all these things I can be--and am--politely thankful in the way I have rehearsed with my boys.

But there are things which illicit that squealing, head-smacking, “I think I’m dreaming!” sort of response, and I doubt it’s your new Wii.

It might be the baby you waited a decade or more to conceive or adopt.

It might be one day of feeling good in the middle of a long stretch of feeling horrible.

It might be a resurrected marriage.

Maybe it’s a fresh understanding of God’s gracious rescue in Christ.

Even this degree of gratitude isn’t the end. Just as need produced the head-smacking gratitude, the fruit of gratitude is unbridled generosity.

Those who have seen war willingly give their lives to ensure their families can enjoy peace.

Those who have suffered through chronic pain willingly give time and effort to relieve the suffering of another.

Those who have witnessed a resurrected marriage willingly give counsel to anyone suffocating in a dying marriage.

Need presupposes gratitude.

Gratitude produces generosity.

Generosity meets the needs of another, and the cycle repeats.

Over time, we might be surprised to find ourselves genuinely grateful even for our need, because it is the fertile soil where gratitude takes root and generosity blossoms.

You may even find yourself smacking your head and saying, “Thankful for my need?! I think I’m dreaming!”

But I assure you, Friend, you’re not.

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