Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks Isn't Always Easy

Why is giving thanks so hard?  I know it is a nice and wonderful thing to do.  I used to be an optimist. I used to believe ultimately everything would be wonderful.  The truth is, I'm no longer an optimist.  When I think about gratitude and thanksgiving, unfortunately all the things that have hurt me, trouble me, pain me, disappointment me etc come to mind.  I can very easily wallow in a sea of self-doubt and depression.

But that's the problem.  It isn't about me... Thanksgiving isn't about ME.  When I make it about me, I lose sight of what's really important.  The comparisons I make are always those with people who have done better or the things I don't have.

I have some friends who I've known a very, very long time.  Some are merely acquaintances, a few others are good friends.  I guess I've been pretty hard on myself all my life.  Always wanting to please and always some how falling short.  I remember that I always thought these people were better than I was... they just were.  I got that from my mother who would fall all over herself for anyone she perceived as better than her.  I think she got that as a child being poor, living on the wrong side of the tracks, being Pentecostal when it wasn't cool to be so, and then going to NYC as a child to work as a domestic.  I didn't grow up in luxury by any means.  The daughter of a janitor isn't born to wealth.  But I never went without something I really needed.

Those Norman Rockwell pictures of Thanksgiving are really not the reality for many people. For many people the holiday is empty.  Oh they may not be alone, they maybe in the midst of celebration, but they are empty.  Psychologists will tell you that depression and suicide both rise when we are supposed to be giving thanks and being with family.

Okay, I'm not trying to depress you nor am I trying to slap you with reality.  I am just thinking out loud about how complicated life is, especially at the holidays.

These are my kids and grandkids and one in-law.
I'm thankful for each one of them.

We have a tradition in my family.  I started it with my family when my kids were very young.  We go around the table and say what we are thankful for before we pray and eat.  Everyone is always awkward. I don't know why.  I am too.  My mother would always cry when she would say her thanks for health, and family.  That's the pretty standard answer in our house.  Health and family....

But you know, this thanksgiving I'm thinking how huge that really is... we lost my mother this year.  She's not crying any more about anything - she's with Jesus.  Health - I have friends in chronic pain and some with cancer.  I am healthy, thank God... Really, that's doesn't just sound nice as you go around the table.  It's really something to be thankful for...

Then there is family.  My family is big and just as complex as it is big.  It's a typical family because it is blended.  We have mine and ours... I wish we were closer in proximity as well as emotionally.  I wish those who didn't care for each other would learn to love and forgive.  Yet, this amazing tribe of people are wonderful.  Some are professionals, some work with their hands.  Some are young, some not so young any more.  Some are just finding themselves, some seem to have arrived.  But they are great - and I'm very thankful for each of them.  And I'm thankful for that complex woman who made me call her Mother rather than Mommy - the one who always tried to live up to someone else's expectation but who made the best turkey at Thanksgiving and even borrowed tips from Better Homes & Garden's to make our simple table look grand.

But most of all I'm thankful for the godly heritage she and my dad gave me.  They taught me about Jesus.  I used to sing a song in church as a kid - I have decided to follow Jesus -- there's one verse that says, Though none go with me, still I will follow.  Seems hardly anyone is following Jesus in my family.  But I am.  And I will continue to follow the One who is my source of strength and life.  And today, I am most thankful for Him.

Happy Thanksgiving - and as you sit to consume massive amounts of food, if it isn't your tradition to share what your thankful for with your family - tell Jesus what your thankful for before that first bite goes in your mouth.  Your food will taste even better... GUARANTEED.


David said...

Thanks Joyce - good exercise in practicing the presence of God - it begin with thanksgiving.

Families are complicated. Some times I prefer to skip all the holiday stuff to insulate myself from family - but I am the light, so I show up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tony C said...

I love traditions like that and wish we had one in my family. Of course, I could always start one this year...

Your honest reflection is an awesome testimony that God loves us in the good and bad. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tracy said...

What a wonderful family picture!

I think we can all relate to how complicated families can be. I try to stay in the present when I am with my family of origin (as I'll be today); not to be in denial about how messed up they are, but because they've made their choices and there's nothing I can do about that. What I can do is enjoy the time I have with them and focus on that for this day.

I so agree about the Godly heritage, I am beyond grateful that I got to grow up knowing God and never doubting that He exists.