Thankfulness and the Writing on the Wall

This image shows the view from the carpark &qu...

The carpark “Rest and be Thankful” near Arrochar in Scotland.

Confession: I’ve been seriously struggling with that whole “attitude of gratitude” thing lately. Ironic, I know, given the season.

It’s been quite a month at our house: a broken laptop, two pairs of broken glasses, a stolen purse, an ER visit, and a cold that’s come back three (3!) times. All of which, I hasten to assure any family members who may be reading this, seem to have turned out fine, or at least as fine as could reasonably be expected.

But still there’s this gnawing in my chest, this voice in my head that whispers, You deserve more.

When I show up at my colorless office, it’s hard to remember the things work has to teach me, easier to wish I was in grad school pursuing my dreams.

When my partner applies for job after job with no luck so far, it’s hard to hope, easier to worry about our long-term financial situation.

I could go on, but I won’t.

And I know that all these things are what we like to call first world problems. I have a job, a job that is not exciting but that ensures both of us have insurance and food and a place to live and some money left to give away to those who have less, and yes, even to have fun. But it’s all too easy to lose my perspective, especially in this consumer culture where cravings for More make the world go round.

Today I got a nice reality check: I volunteered at a free dental clinic, a huge one that happens once a year in my state. People camp out overnight in the cold like it’s Black Friday, but instead of a great deal, most of them are just hoping for some pain relief, for some friendly care they can’t get any way else.

I wasn’t that skilled of a volunteer, not being part of the medical community, but I did what I could, helping a few Spanish speakers navigate, fetching the dentists more gloves. But it was so amazing just being there, seeing the dental professionals pour themselves out for their patients, seeing the patients start to relax, to smile with confidence for the first time in a long time.

In the volunteer lounge, they’d pasted all these patient comments up on the wall. The comments from a single day plastered one whole wall and started to creep down another.

“Thank you for doing God’s work.”

“I can never repay you for what you’ve done for me.”

“I will be praying for you today and during your work tomorrow, that you can help many others like you helped me.”

“Everyone was wonderful. Thank you for being so kind to me and smiling.”

As I read their gracious, overflowing thanks, the lightbulb started, belatedly, to go on. An entire wall of thanksgiving for something so basic – something I took for granted: for care. Care for their flawed bodies and, maybe even more than that, genuine care for them as people, as dignified, beautiful human beings.

I realized it’s not the job and the food and the privilege I take for granted: it’s also the love with which God has blessed me. Some of it has come from friendships and relationships, some of it straight from the source. And I remember vividly specific times I wept and prayed for that love, prayers I didn’t even believe could work, prayers to a God I did not know.

And I realized, looking at that wall, that thanksgiving doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s a cycle that starts with giving: we give what we can, and we’re reminded how much we were given, and the thankfulness we feel overflows into even more giving.

May I actively seek an attitude of gratitude at this time of year and always – because it keeps the cycle going, because having so freely received, the only loving thing to do is freely give.

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