An Attitude of Gratitude…with a little latitude

It is the season of Thanksgiving. In two short days, privileged Americans will gather around tables all over this nation and gorge on foods they spend days preparing. Some of them will do it with solemn traditions and rituals that have been in their family for ages. Some will do it without thinking very hard about what it all means. Almost everyone, whether they feast or not—whether they have family to feast with or not—will stop and think about what it means to be thankful.

Thankful adj

1: conscious of benefit received <for what we are about to receive make us truly thankful>

2: expressive of thanks <thankful service>

3: well pleased :  glad <was thankful that it didn’t rain>

thank·ful·ness noun

I love the word “conscious” in the first definition. The benefit is received. But am I conscious of it?

Gretchen Rubin posted a quote a few days ago that burrowed itself into me and won’t leave. It said, “Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.”

Oh dear. Receiving the benefits. Conscious of nothing. Complaining of everything.

It is a hard thing to look in the face of and admit, but I think I’ve become this.  I’ve allowed some ugly stuff to creep in.

For me, in a situation like this, I like to do two things: (1) Figure out how I landed there and understand the journey, (2) Determine the quickest and most direct road OUT of there. I think the second facet will be easy. There are some easy roads out of negativity and toward gratitude. Spending more time In God’s word is a big one. Serving others. Serving the less fortunate. Meditating on POSITIVE things. Keeping a gratitude list. Focusing on the good in every situation. If your INPUT is good, so will your OUTPUT be. What I put into myself, will spill out.

But how I got here, and exactly when, bothers me. I honestly don’t know. I do think I’ve declined a great deal in the last 6 months, maybe starting in the summertime. And I think it relates somehow to the kids getting older and busier and more involved in activities. These things drain me, require my car and my excellent driving skills and my time, and take all of us away from  home and each other. They are temporary to some degree. Sports seasons end. Plays take place for audiences and rehearsals are over. But in another sense, they are not temporary. My family is moving into another phase of life with older, more active kids. I didn’t see it coming and I’m fighting this phase. I think a great deal of my own internal discord comes from my fighting the system instead of finding a way to thrive within it.

I read an article years ago about how to react if ever attacked by an alligator. Silly me, you may think. What a stupid waste of time to read articles about reacting to alligator attacks. Not really. I live on a river and I do stupid things. I think I have a reasonable chance of needing this advice at some point. If you are ever with me in a kayak, consider yourself covered. So I read the article. The point of it was that you can’t fight an alligator and win. He will win every time. The only way to deal with an attack is to roll with it. Literally. An alligator’s approach is to grab on and roll you over and under the water until you are dead by drowning. Then he stores you under a log and lets your meat rot and he’ll come back later and eat you. (You’re welcome. Now you know.) The best thing you can do in this situation is try to roll with the gator and come up to breathe and roll again. You try to keep rolling toward solid footing and give yourself time to be helped by someone else or get away.  But you can’t go contrary to the gator. You can’t fight against it. You have to roll with it.

I’ve been fighting a system that is stronger than I am. A gator. I’m fighting something unchangeable. And I can’t. I have to roll with it. Come up for air. Work myself into the systems so that I can still be effective. Roll with it.

I have focused on the things that were wrong and completely overlooked what’s still okay and intact. I’ve focused on all the time I don’t have, creating a paralysis that destroys the time I do have. I have required a circumstance that hasn’t existed and decided to sit down and wait for things to go my way. Anyone who was just on the recent camping trip in sweaty Florida will know what I mean. They went camping with this version of me. (A story may or may not follow in a later post, depending on how much self deprecation I feel I can handle.)

Ouch.

Sigh.

Well, now what? I don’t think it’s that hard to pull out of something like this. A big part of it is deciding to change. If you want to get somewhere, go there. Sometimes it really is that simple. A big part of it is realizing you have somewhere to go. I personally have to assess what can and cannot change and work within the system. I have a boy enrolling in high school to be a freshman next year. If I’m honest, right now is probably a whole lot less complicated and busy than next year will be. So it would serve me well to be thankful for now. I have 2 boys playing middle school soccer, one on JV and the other Varsity. That means 4 days a week, at least, of soccer. I have a 4th grader involved in chorus and drama after school on Mondays and Thursdays. And I have a tiny one playing violin.

All of these things are good and all are things I have allowed and endorsed, albeit reluctantly. So it’s time to embrace where I am—where WE are—and make it work. But I don’t just want it to work. I don’t just want to eek by. I want to thrive. I want it to work well.

That starts with me.

With me being thankful.

I saw an internet meme on Facebook (just typing those words made me want to punch myself in the face) that said, “It isn’t happy people that are thankful. It is thankful people that are happy.”

If Facebook said it, it must be true.

Of course I don’t mean that. But I do believe this:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Give thanks in all circumstances. In all circumstances.

I’ve been given the gifts. I have received the benefits. Now it’s time to say thank you. Baby steps?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.