Someone just sat next to me and is playing annoying music on his phone, without earbuds, as if Hades-sent to torture me. The irony of writing about gratitude while supremely annoyed at this tormentor is not lost to me.
We each live in and with the Mess.
I see a lot of the Mess. But there are many varieties I do not see. Just ask a first responder. Or doctor. Or soldier. Or addiction counselor. Or….
The Mess that’s scariest to see, though, is my own. I’m guessing that’s true for you too, even if you’re in one of those Mess-seeing jobs like me. Or should I say “especially if”? Those of us who help others with their Mess can be exceptionally clever at dodging our own.
“OK, Doug. This is supposed to be a ‘Thanksgiving’ piece. So can you quit talking about this ‘Mess’ stuff and talk about — oh, I don’t know, Thanksgiving?”
Glad you asked.
Here’s the thing: Thanksgiving — giving thanks — is an expression of gratitude. Gratitude has to be real or it’s not gratitude. Yes, we need to practice it to cultivate it. But feeling gratitude is more than expressing gratitude. Gratitude doesn’t depend on circumstances. Gratitude lives in the human heart. Gratitude is an attitude.
Gratitude persists even in the Mess. But what if we weren’t just grateful despite the Mess? What if we were grateful for the Mess?
Who expresses gratitude for struggling with alcoholism? For being disabled? For going through a third divorce? Who says, “I’m thankful I’m stuck in such a cruddy job and my boss is a jerk” or “I’m so glad my home was robbed,” or worst of all: “I’m grateful for my commute through the Altamont?”
Why in the world would we be grateful for the Mess — especially when it hurts those we love? Because it can make us better. The Mess forces us to tell the truth about ourselves. Gratitude grows best in the light of truth. The truth includes the hard things we face about ourselves. It also includes that, yes, there is a lot to be thankful for — even that.
No one is saying we have to like the Mess. Nor is it healthy to excuse, minimize or deny it. Telling the truth about the Mess includes “this stinks” and “that hurt”/“I hurt you” and “I can’t believe (he/she/they/I) did that.” But that’s exactly where the Mess can teach us. The Mess can open our eyes. We can be made better instead of bitter. God can use the Mess for even greater good than would have otherwise happened without it. That is one of God’s specialties.
When gratitude for life and living grows in our hearts, we don’t have to try to be thankful any more than a person yanked from the path of an oncoming truck would. We just are. As we understand better what God has done for us, we become more grateful for life itself. When we become more grateful, we bless others.
Let us not merely give thanks this Thanksgiving. Let us truly be thankful. Despite the Mess. Even for the Mess.
Now — time to edit this while enjoying the sounds of expletive-laden monster truck videos. God’s trying to teach me something, I just know it.