I wonder if what we’re really thankful for can be divvied up into one of a few categories. Maybe it’s based on a deep, hard-wired knowing that there are only a few things that make us truly happy…
/ Personal Growth
/ Serving Others
We got this list (which Jeremiah has our kids faithfully reciting every morning as they start school) from a study on happiness that we heard about in the “Happy” documentary that many of you have, no doubt, seen on Netflix. We love thinking through how each of these areas is so connected to the gospel, the nature of God, and creation. Here’s a quick article about it if you want to get the jist without watching a whole documentary. The idea is that folks who have a high value on success, money and power are basically sabotaging their own happiness because it’s ultimately a dead end. But people who can find their greatest value in community, personal growth and serving (in turn, DE-valuing the ascent of success and power), will more easily stumble into happiness. What we value is what we will inadvertently spend ourselves on, and will naturally set us up for a pursuit of true joy, or smoke and mirrors.
So, as we enter the holiday season, I’m reminding myself of what I value. And I’m trying not to be a glutton. Yes, of course, with the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, but also with my wants and “needs”. Today is Black Friday, of course, following right behind those potatoes and pie. I perused the ads this morning, and could feel the hunger-pangs rising up. I’m sitting in a lovely home, surrounded by infinitely more than I need, and yet I feel the need. Maybe you can relate. It’s ok. If we are American, we are born and bred to be gluttons. No good in shaming myself or anyone else. But we can, I think, learn to fight it in new ways.
Hearing my kids’ voices every single morning, echoing to each other that community, personal growth and serving others is really what brings happiness has been transformative. It’s a subtle but consistent reminder of truth — Not a violent uprising against consumerism in my heart (a strategy I have tried over and over, and then tend to miserably fail at), but a more pure voice of reason, filling me up with good news (that real happiness is so accessible!) so that there’s just not as much room for the lies. Dang, that will preach.
So, here’s my Thanksgiving gratitude list, based on those 3 values for happiness. I’ll challenge you to name one thing in each category that you’re thankful for this year, and to let it fill you up so that there’s just less room for that nagging “not enough” feeling that plagues every one of us gluttons.
/ Community. This is an interesting one. I’ve felt for years that we are “filthy rich in friendship” and we are. But not everyone is, of course, and as I play out that metaphor, I realize my hope for anyone who is filthy rich in possessions would be willing to find ways to share them, to let go… to actively look for their abundance to meet someone else’s need. So I’m wondering how our relational wealth can be more intentionally shared. I’ve been learning over the past few years more about the Trinity and have been so inspired by Richard Rohr’s encouragement to think of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as more of a verb than a noun. Like a water wheel, they are constantly pouring out, one into another, pouring out and receiving, over and over again. So I’m particularly thankful this year for the community that God is. That the faith we’ve given our lives to not only values community, but IS community. And I’m looking forward to learning more about how to mirror our good God in pouring out and receiving in the coming year.
/ Personal Growth. This year I’m thankful for music — For how this form of poetry inspires, comforts and challenges us, and for the possibility that we humans have of mastering something really complicated like learning an instrument. We’ve been encouraging our kids to practice music most days, and I’ve been working on it a little bit as well. This kind of personal growth is hard for me to spend time on for some ridiculous reason, but I’m grateful my son has a beautiful little ukulele and likes to share it with me.
/ Serving Others. Well, as you may have heard, our family will be moving to Guatemala for half of the year starting in 2019. This is an opportunity to serve once-orphaned children who are growing up in an incredible home called Casa Angelina. We are so grateful for such a place, and that God is inviting us to be a part of it. And we know the life and love that will fill our family there will be equal to or even greater than whatever we’ll be blessed to give out. We’re really overwhelmed with gratitude about this upcoming adventure.
I hope these words from my heart will, in some way, inspire you as you think about gratitude this year. I’ll end with words that I saw hanging on our chiropractor’s office wall recently. So good.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melanie Beattie