Comparative Gratefulness: Learning the Art of Celebration

I’m sitting comfortably in my study with a hot cup of coffee. Today is Thanksgiving and I am thinking about my life and inwardly calculating my degree of gratefulness.

I’ve noticed that, too often, my tendency toward self-pity causes me to look sideways rather than heavenward when I’m voicing my prayers. The inner script goes something like this:

God, I’m having a really hard time. But, at least, I can be thankful that I’m not as bad off as [insert someone’s name here].

 

In many ways, that’s a better prayer than the one that actually forms when I glance over at others. As I hear them voice their woes with their own lives, I sometimes find myself chuckling at the trivial nature of their life challenges.

“At least, you don’t have the burdens I have!” I want to scream.

But they do have burdens and they impact them in the same way as mine do me even though they are different. Their problems cause worry and anxiety. And challenges plant a seed of envy as these folks look around and see others who seem burdenless because the cargo they carry is different.

True thanksgiving in moments like this can happen. Moving from a perspective of self-centeredness to one of gratefulness takes a small step.

Pray for others.

Pray to increase the good in their lives. Pray for their safety. Pray for their happiness. Pray that their loads be lifted.

Pray for your family, your friends, your enemies.

When we change the flow of our prayers, we alter the very nature of our relationship with God. When we pray with a view that others are more like us than different, when we pray with the understanding that every individual is valuable, when we pray with true gratefulness . . . we must also pray knowing that “Thy will be done” can only be offered honestly when “my will” merges with His. And we can, at last, experience true gratefulness.

And from those prayers flows true joy.

 

It’s Always Something

One of the positive things about social media is its reach into the lives of friends — old, new, close, and distant. The news we see is often joyful, many times sorrowful, and very often revelations that make us prayerful. It’s always something.

In two separate, online conversations over the last week or so, I was reminded of the transitory nature of our lives. Visits about disease, addiction, death, loss of jobs. We never truly arrive, despite our hopes to do that. Goals are reached only to discover that there is yet another, better place ahead. And scattered along our path are some pretty ominous pitfalls.

Many of us postpone the best parts of our days — the moments for conversation, questions, ambiguity, friendship, and partnership. In a rush to find our next plateau of accomplishment or security and to navigate around the distractions, we brush aside what is meaningful.

It’s easy to do. Life hands us countless opportunities for distraction. Some times those diversions are loaded on to us despite our best-laid plans. But often the complications and the pain are a result of influences and forces that we invited into our lives along our way.

In truth, it is always something.

Yet, there is something else. From a place where the distraction is woven with the intended, we begin to get a good view of the fabric of our lives and our meaning. We become champions of our time when we embrace it all — good and bad.

The key word in the sentence isn’t “something” — it’s “always.”

Our mission is simply to come back to the something, to celebrate when it is good and to persevere when it is bad . . . always.

The Bottom of the Inbox

I’m staring at an empty inbox.

That hasn’t happened for months. But this past weekend, I methodically and, somewhat painfully, worked through every item in my email inbox. And there, at the bottom, I found something wonderful.

Freedom. Release from the nagging pile of questions and duty.

I emptied my inbox on Sunday. I painstakingly worked my way through each and every message. I answered some, delegated a few, and organized information from the rest in a way that moves my work and my life along. What a wonderful feeling to see the bottom of my inbox.

When I awoke on Monday, I found my mind drawn to a new view.

I have other life inboxes that are filled to the brim with unanswered questions, unfulfilled relationships, and unmet visions. And, for a moment, I felt discouraged because I longed to see each and every one of those inboxes empty.

Later in the day, I received a message from a former student. He told me of the things that he was doing and of the items that were in his inbox these days. That’s when I realized that the bottom of my other inboxes will probably not be reached by me alone, but by others I’ve been blessed to come to know along the way.

And that is a good thing.

Talk About What Matters

A lot of disgusting talk swirls around us. It’s always been here because people have placed a high value on status. We don’t have to be the very best at anything — just prove ourselves better than others.

Yet, many of those who are the best are those who spend no energy on aggrandizing themselves. In fact, in their quest for excellence in their chosen pursuit, they help others along the way.

I hear — and personally feel — much despair over the tone of our public conversations. We have focused on the rancor in politics, but the same bile is spewing in all levels of our existence. Many have longed for a societal solution to this poisonous behavior.

Here’s one that isn’t original with me, but one that will change the world even if it doesn’t stop the inane mutterings of our elected officials.

Talk about individuals. Tell stories of tragedy and losses balanced with victory and gains. Don’t concentrate on the negativity surrounding an event, but on the stories of that woman, child, or man who stepped forward to do something good.

Those are the stories that matter. The news about the awful things will be framed in the telling of what is good. And that will be talk that matters.

Time is of the Essence

Time is factored into everything. And it seems that everything can be factored into time.

Photo by Cliff Johnson on Unsplash

In our work and our play, time is a consideration.

The statement that “time is of the essence” has its origin in contract law. Those five words carry a heavy weight. They say, “There is no margin for error when it comes to time. Even a little late breaches this contract.”

You may know people who live their lives as if time is of the essence. We find them to be remarkable and stable and champions of both professional and personal relationships. They’re the ones toiling in the sun who pause to lean on their shovel to chat. They’re the ones who stop, even in the middle of the most tedious task, and make room for you to sit for awhile.

Oddly, those who truly seem to make time the essence of their lives are the ones who seem to be unaware of time.

I’ve become lost in stories where the author describes an experience as timeless. It’s not, of course. But it seems that way because of the focus in the moment. Our attention is shifted away from the demands of life to honor the sanctity of relationship or beauty or calm.

Holy scripture teaches that finding God is best achieved in timeless moments. It is in those precious intervals that He unlocks the secrets of time and servant opportunity. And therein is the essence of living life as it was intended.