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Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent.  As part of the celebration, our youth gathered at the front of the church and lit the first candle in the Advent wreath.  The first candle?  It represents hope.

It is so easy to feel hopeless.  So many are sick.  In our Sunday school class alone, we have three people being treated for various kinds of cancer, one with a bad knee, and a lady with chronic depression.  In the past week, there have been car accidents which means totalled cars and injuries.  And that’s just among those of us in one class and their families.  Add into this environmental issues, the economy and politics and . . . Can’t you feel it?  Hope is ebbing for so many of us.

When I feel it start to get me down, I try to remember to turn to the youth.  Just among our children, we have intellectuals and artists, a young man with a profound sense of what is right and wrong, and several budding scientists and more.

Hope in the time of Advent goes beyond what we can do with our own hands. It encompasses the Hope to be found in Christ, the living word of God, the light of the world.  But these youth? They are a reminder.  Their energy, their drive, their determination remind me of what can be done in His name.  And then I remember to be grateful.

–SueBE

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thank godFirst things first, let’s get this out of the way. I am not an expert on naikan.  Not even close.  I listened to a pod cast, a short eleven minutes that spoke to my heart.  It was about cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

Perhaps it caught my attention because this is a non-Christian approach to something that Christians have been discussing an awful lot lately.  Every week, I see blog posts on learning to be grateful for the many blessings God sends our way.  When I saw the listing for this, I was curious because I want to know how other people approach problems that we all have in common.

In naikan, you learn to be grateful for the many small things that make your life good.  Among the examples cited were your car that started, the lines on the street that keep everyone in the correct lane, and a hug from your daughter.

Truthfully, we experience many reasons to be grateful on a daily basis.  Today alone I’ve been able to make contact with friends through Facebook, been able to cook breakfast super quick in the microwave, had a wonderful cup of coffee, and, because a doctor’s appointment was cancelled, had time to touch up my toe nails.  Life is good!

Why then we are so often unhappy?  Why do we focus on the things that went wrong in our day?

Expectations.  We expect things to go our way.  We want that light to be green, the new dress we ordered to arrive today and that clerk had better wait on me next.  We expect these things and when they don’t happen — disappointment!

Entitlement.  We deserve these things, don’t we?  Pinterest tells us our homes should always be beautiful.  Yelp makes it clear that each and every meal we eat out should be inexpensive, delicious, fast and beautifully served.  And there better not be anyone in our vicinity that we don’t like the looks of…

Self-focus.  It is easy to believe that we deserve the best when the only person that we focus on is ourselves.  To break this mind set, we need to focus outward.  When I do, I notice that in addition to myself there are a lot of people out there and, you know something nutty?  They’re His too.  His Blessings aren’t reserved just for me.

I should be grateful and thank Him for those that are.

–SueBE

If TV and movies have taught us anything, it’s that the person you seek — whether it’s a fiendish murderer or some luckless gal’s soulmate — is always the one you least suspect. That good-looking, solid, nice-as-pie guy? He will be discarded in favor of the man our heroine claimed to hate and has bickered with for a full 90 minutes. The FBI agent? Actually a KGB spy in disguise. It’s gotten to be such a common ruse, the astute watcher can guess the outcome based on the premise that whoever-dunnit will be the person who appears most ridiculously unlikely to have done so.

We apply this principle to pop culture, but seldom examine its application to our own lives. When we make that big sale, land that elusive account, garner the attention of a significant other, whom do we look to for praise? Ourselves, of course. When we bungle the big sale, lose the account, get dumped or overlooked, whom do we look to for the assignation of blame? Probably someone else. Maybe ourselves. But what if, in every instance, we are wrong? What if, all along, it really is the one we suspect the least — God?

Sure, we sometimes remember to thank God for the good things in our lives. It is easier to see God as the engenderer of positive things, less easy to see God’s presence in things like war, death or tragedy. But The One You Least Suspect has a hand in all things, all ways. You may not see it, but it’s there.

Someone once described understanding God’s movement in the world to the following: A single page of a huge manuscript is torn from a book. The page is battered by wind and weather until it consists of a few legible sentences. Someone finds this scrap of paper, and based on it, claims to understand what the entire novel was about. It is ridiculous on the face of it. So, too, is it ridiculous for us to claim to understand how God works in our lives…or to discount God’s existence based on a similar, crabbed view.

You are a part of God’s divine providence. God has a plan for you and for the world. Perhaps it is time to recognize The One You Least Suspect for having outwitted us all — though I suspect none of us will understand this fully until our deaths. In the meantime, give God more credit, even for those things that seem hopeless or wrong. God has stronger eyesight than we do. God sees the big picture. God will surprise you, whether you expect it or not.

Thank You, Lord,
for the many blessings
You rain down
on me and mine.

Thank You
for the food we eat,
the clothes we wear,
and the beds
we sleep in each night.

Thank You most of all
for the behind the scenes blessings
that keep us safe,
that bring us joy,
that shape our lives,
even though we never know
that these special gifts
have been given to us
each and every day.

Amen

I’m not even sure what my son was whining about that particular evening. Everything and nothing. In truth, he was probably over tired because he’d just started swim team with both its swim practice and dry land training. But we’d also been picking at each other a lot – my husband giving my son grief, me giving him an earful in turn and so on. We simply were not appreciating each other or a whole lot of anything else.

“We’re going to start something new tonight.” I got them both to sit down at the kitchen table, but the looks they gave me were wary. You know – the kind of look that says, what on earth is she up to? “We are each going to name five things that we are thankful for.”

My husband, looking relieved, was immediately on board. My son? Not so much. When his turn came around he stated that he was thankful for one cat. Then another cat. Then the last cat. And thank you to Mom for letting me eat. And then something about his Dad (I don’t remember what but my husband laughingly points out that I came directly after the cats while he was last). Fortunately, this funk didn’t last and my son is now with the program.

For my part, I’m learning a lot. I’ve learned that although they don’t say it often, they are grateful when I make a meal and run errands for them. This is also a great way to find out about what concerns them. Thanks that he made friends on the swim team tells me that, no matter how self-assured he acted, my son was worried, at least a little bit, about being the new kid in the pool. My husband’s thanks give me some insight into what is going on at work and what his hopes are for our family.

This may not seem like a big deal, but we aren’t together 24/7, and they are typical males. The things that they worry about the most are seldom topics of conversation. Giving thanks as a family has given me some insight into matters to them.

What does this have to do with prayer and faith? When I pray for someone, I don’t like to make assumptions. I can’t pray for a solution if I don’t know there is a problem. Now that I know what is going on with the two men in my life, I can hold these things up in prayer.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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