Gratitude turns what we have into enough.
It seems that we are living under a whole new threat this season. At this time last year, we were struggling to get the pandemic under control, too many families were mourning the loss of loved ones and difficult decisions were being made by other families not to gather so as to protect Mom and Dad, Granny and Grandpa.
This year, it’s all about the supply chain. Day after day, we see scores of cargo ships anchored off-shore, laden with goods waiting to dock and get unloaded. There are thousands upon thousands of cargo containers stacked up on one another like children’s blocks. There don’t seem to be enough warehouse workers or truck drivers to get our orders to us in the timely manner to which we had become accustomed. We are warned time and again to shop and order early to prevent a visit from the Grinch rather than St. Nick.
And, if that isn’t enough, we are reminded nearly every day that inflation is at a long-time high. Americans are flush with cash, unless of course you’re not. We are making up for lost time and spending, spending, spending. Our hunger to buy is outstripping supply, so prices go up.
Scarcity, or even just the threat of it, can make us crazy with anxiety. All we have to do is remember the toilet paper fiasco as the shutdown began. I also remember going to the local grocery and walking to the back to get some meat for the week and there was none… none! Those white, empty shelves screamed at me and my anxiety grew by several more degrees that day.
Yet, here we are a year later. Vaccines have been available for nearly nine months. Anyone five years and up can get “the jab.” There are even boosters for those who have been vaccinated for at least six months. Good news for the elderly and immunocompromised. Schools are back to in-person instructions. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are open to visitors. We will be with our loved ones this holiday season with much less anxiety about infecting one another. Many, not all of us by any stretch of the imagination, have what we need and a good bit of what we want. Still, the anxiety over not-having persists, fed every day by news outlets pounding the same old drum of supply-chain crisis and scarcity.
We have a choice whether to react or to respond to this situation. Our reaction might be to give in to the anxiety and go out and do our share of panic buying. We react by allowing our fear to morph into anger and point fingers at “those lazy people who just don’t want to work,” or at the captains of capitalism and/or politicians, accusing them of not doing whatever it is we think they should be doing. Or, we may choose to respond by taking a hint from Thanksgiving and practice gratitude.
I had a small epiphany the other day, one that many of you may have already had, but I am often thick and tend to be slow. God does not need our gratitude. The Source of all that is, was and ever will be has no need for our thanks-giving. Rather, we are the ones who are in need of being grateful, of developing an attitude of gratitude, of learning to give thanks.
Gratitude does not come naturally for me. Oh, my mother taught me to say “thank you” before I could even tie my shoes; and, it is still very easy for me to take people and things for granted. My experiences of the past year have taught me how quickly life can change and have helped me to learn to be more grateful. As I watched the virus ravage through the boroughs, apartments and nursing homes of New York I became grateful for a home, a roof over my head, where I could live safely. When our office shut down I was grateful for the ablility to work from home and continue to have an income when so many lost their livelihoods overnight. My heart filled with gratitude as I witnessed the bravery of health care workers, first responders, grocery and food-chain workers, long-haul truckers and delivery personnel. Never a lover of technology, I became grateful for its capacity to keep us connected. Even now, I am thankful for the scientists and researchers who worked night and day to develop a vaccine and to all of those who work tirelessly to get it out to the public.
As I worked and prayed for an attitude of gratitude I began to notice changes within me. Over time my mindset began to shift ever so slightly. I began to feel better. It seems that thankfulness has the capacity to change the way we perceive reality, weaken the chains of worry, to release the anxiety that there isn’t enough and to free us from the compulsion to buy and get just for the sake of buying and getting. I became more aware of the good things that were still possible even in the midst of multiple global and personal crises: the promise of a warm spring morning, the overwhelming kindness of others who find ways to serve the needs of their neighbors, the cry of justice for one another and our planet, the gift of slowing down and the enjoyment of a good book.
I am aware that I am writing this as a white, older, middle-class woman and that there are families who do not have enough, who lack a roof over their heads, food on their tables and adequate clothing. Yet, for those of us who do have enough, gratitude can be dangerous. It can open our eyes and hearts to the needs of others and may even cause us to pause and wonder, “What can I do?” Gratitude has the ability to change our lives in so many ways.
Is it any wonder, then, that throughout the Bible we are invited, encouraged and cajoled to be grateful, not for God’s sake, but for our very own?