Thanksgiving is less than a day away, but I’m not going to create a list or write a post about what I’m thankful for this year. If I did it would likely include the obvious things, the things that fit nicely onto a list, like my husband, my job, my home, and the food on my table. Of course, the truth is that I’m not always thankful for those things. When my husband is inconsiderate or my job is too demanding or my dishwasher is broken or I burn the dinner I spent so much time making (again), I don’t feel thankful. I also know that those things have very little to do with genuine gratitude. We should be thankful for those things, certainly. But gratitude, I’m learning, is more than making a list of the good things in our lives. Gratitude is a choice, a way of living, that acknowledges imperfection and chooses a spirit of thankfulness anyway.
Most of us have a lot to be thankful for this year. But I’m certain that just as many have found life to be a little more bitter than sweet this year, bringing unexpected disappointment and hurt. It may be a broken relationship or a particularly painful loss or a heavy financial burden. Those things are just as real and just as heavy on our hearts this year. Slowly I’m finding gratitude for those things, too—for the way God has redeemed and restored and brought beauty from brokenness. I’m finding that new life can come from despair and that even when we can’t see the silver lining, God is still God.
Giving thanks for the darkness, for healing, and for hope is what is means to practice true Thanksgiving. I’m not there, of course. I don’t know if I will ever truly get there, or if it will always be after the fact—after I’ve experienced the way life came from death—that I can be thankful. But this year I’m practicing a new kind of gratitude—a gratitude that goes beyond a list, a gratitude that can join with God and all of creation in echoing with confidence and conviction the belief that it is good. All of it—the pain and the mess and the laughter and the joy. It is good, and true gratitude is about celebrating that truth.
Tomorrow as we gather around tables to carve the turkey and pour the wine and slice the pies, we will give thanks. We will give thanks for what has been and what is to come. And we will celebrate—we will celebrate because of love and grace and joy and in spite of the pain, expressing gratitude for what God has done and what God can do. And maybe we will experience a glimpse of what it means to be truly grateful.