It’s rather remarkable that for everything else it is, Thanksgiving is fundamentally a day set aside for gratitude. Even though attention is often turned toward the delectable dishes we get to enjoy, it’s nevertheless a day to consider the gifts of grace we enjoy individually and as members of the larger community.
But sometimes gratitude can be hard to come by. Those of us who live face-to-face with an aggressive diagnosis or with other occasions for grief can find it difficult to be full of gratitude, even on an officially sanctioned day to do just that. Since my own diagnosis almost four years ago, I know how often fear, uncertainty, and grief make insistent pleas for my allegiance, even when I’m “supposed” to be cultivating gratitude.
In the face of fear and uncertainty’s nagging presence, I attempt—with varying degrees of success—to keep them at bay. While they tempt me with lists of anxious questions (Will still be around next Christmas? For the girls’ high school graduations? Will I make it to 50?), I try and turn my attention elsewhere. One of the best “elsewhere’s” I’ve found is through the practice of daily morning prayer. It is the case that I often wake to thoughts of fear; in response, I move through a litany of prayers of gratitude for this day.
Hands open, palms up, I inch toward accepting the reality that I don’t have the answer to the questions fear insists I ask. Coaxing my thoughts away from the unknown future to the present, I seek out words of gratitude for the health I’m experiencing today; for the blessings right now of a dear husband and two precious daughters whose morning routines echo throughout the house; for the gift of extended family and friends that steady my soul; for a life in the academy that offers constant opportunities to learn and grow. As the words and images gradually fill my mind, questions posed by fear fade a bit, even if temporarily.
Words of gratitude for the grace in my life also contain an insistence of their own: they insist upon awareness on my part that others for whom I’m grateful have grief, fear, uncertainties of their own. Being held up for years by the fervent prayers of others in my behalf, gratitude compels me toward doing the same for others.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is to hear one expression of gratitude from everyone gathered around the table. From youngest to oldest, naming the gifts of grace in our lives creates a counterforce to those insistent fears and uncertainties that tempt us with questions of the future. A practice, I’ve learned, that deserves replication more than once a year.
Blessed Days of Gratitude to all.