Yay for Compulsory Thankfulness

‘Tis the season for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. I love that there’s not much hype around Thanksgiving. Minimal pressure or obligation. Family, food, and giving thanks, all good stuff.

Giving thanks is pretty easy. I can rattle off the things I’m thankful for without strain: Phil, Caroline, family, friends, house, clothing, food, Charlie the cat, trees, teachers, church, Jesus. Easy-peasy. Let’s eat.

This year, however, I challenged myself to give thanks every day in the 100 days leading up to Thanksgiving—on Facebook—and include a photo. Sometimes, finding a photo was the toughest part of the challenge, because it forced me away from abstractions and intangibles (love, peace, happiness). Instead, I learned to be thankful for the things around me: dark-red leaves, a blue feather on the ground, a striking wallpaper pattern, Popeye’s mashed potatoes and gravy. These might seem mundane or trivial – because they are – and I truly am thankful for them.

And the challenge became easier the more I exercised my thanks.

At the start, I was trying so hard to find the very special thing, the highlight of the day, the memorable and beautiful this or that. I was just learning to exercise gratefulness, like a kid with training wheels riding so deliberately.

After nearly 100 days, my thankfulness expanded recklessly to include oxygen, blackberry jam (seedless), clean water, cell phone, daughter’s artwork, Dr. Seuss, and the friendly mail man. Whereas I used to say thanks for the same things day after day—this meal, my people, easy left turns—now nothing is safe from my appreciation.

(Beware, friend: I appreciate you.)

This broadening gratefulness reminds me of the tendency to think about your “spiritual life” in limited ways. Your spiritual life might involve going to church, reading the Bible, praying, or maybe some other spiritual discipline. But I’m reminded that this life—all of it—is our “spiritual life.” Kent Dobson puts it this way: “The car ride on the way to church, when we’re yelling at our kids to shut up, is just as much our spiritual life as the music we pretend to like when we get there.”

Similarly, before the 100 Days of Thanks challenge, I had a “thankful life” that was limited to brief, contained spasms of thankfulness. Now I look around with a greater appreciation for all the good there is—not just the stuff I’m lucky to have but the stuff that used to seem like a given:

sunshine on a cold day,

being alive,

a stapler that works,

starlings doing drill routines in the sky,

piano music,

the magic power of spray paint,

the chance to walk my daughter home from school every single day.

(Sometimes she lets me hold her hand.)

The compulsory thankfulness challenge has bridged some of the distance between my small, earthbound gratefulness and Paul’s advice, “in every thing give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18).

It’s also given me new eyes for the world. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it first and best: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God . . .” Truly, there is happiness in giving thanks.

orange-fall-leaf.jpgHappy Thanksgiving!

-Em, as always, thankful for you taking the time to read and respond