"The Sunshine and the Shadows"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday I sat in our local Starbucks listening to the conversation of a group of older men who were chatting about how they planned to celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. One of the men announced that his entire extended family would be gathering together, and before beginning their meal everyone around the table would be expected to share something for which they are especially thankful this year. The man said that that this year he would be unable to single out one event because his life was going so well and he was planning on telling his gathered family that he was thankful for “everything.”
When I first heard this I thought it was pretty great to hear this elderly man talk about how wonderful his life had been and that he was thankful for everything, but the more I thought about it I began to question just how truthful and genuine this was.
Most people “give thanks” for the “good stuff” that comes along in life. As they sit around a holiday table and identify why they are thankful they are usually giving a nod to all that may have gone well – good health, a nice family, a good job, a nice house, money in the bank, a good grade on the paper.
The fact is however that much of this very impermanent and imperfect life doesn’t always turn out all that well and often doesn’t come anywhere near to our hoped-for expectations. People get sick or have an accident, the house burns down, a relationship is ruptured, or they lose a job.
Furthermore, while the events of everyday life may not be all that “bad,” more often than not they are often rather routine, mundane, and even boring - doing the laundry or the grocery shopping or sitting all day at a computer at work are hardly the kinds of things people usually share around the Thanksgiving” table when asked to express their thanks.
So I’m not really sure about how genuine it is for someone to say that they are thankful for “everything” that has happened in a life that has gone so wonderfully well.
And yet, I do think we can all be “thankful” for everything and at all times because I look at “thanksgiving” through a different lens. As I see it, giving thanks is more about embracing life as it happens rather than putting a seal of approval on events that turned out the way we wanted them to happen.
I think St. Paul gives some pretty good advice in one of his epistles when he says:
Be thankful in all the circumstances of life.
The truth is that very little if anything in life is under our control – most of the time life simply happens, it comes to us, and very often it happens far differently than we might have wanted or expected. If “giving thanks” means being grateful for the things that happen according to what we plan or desire, it’s no wonder that we might have a hard time giving thanks when we hit a dry place in life, and since most of our everyday ordinary life is routine and probably somewhat boring, we may also find it hard to “be thankful;” for the dull and mundane.
As I see it, even sickness, loss, grief and pain have a way of making me more vulnerable and open to others – our dry places are often the most fruitful. Furthermore, when I open my mind and heart to life as it comes to me I am always surprised at what can happen and nothing is boring or routine. The simple act of sitting quietly in my garden on an early-winter morning in the desert turns into an awesome experience of mystery and transcendence, the smile of a little child in a market turns into the face of God.
We all have plenty of reasons for always "giving thanks for everything." We can be thankful in all circumstances of life.
Eckhart Tolle put it this way:
Always say yes to the present moment.
Say yes to life and see how suddenly it starts working for you rather than against you.
Giving thanks means saying “yes” to life.