Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Do I Have To Be Thankful For?

I have a favorite poem:

Give thanks for dirty dishes,

They have a tale to tell.

While other folks go hungry,

We're eating very well.

With health and home and happiness,

We shouldn't want to fuss,

But by this stack of evidence,

God's very good to us.

(Anonymous)

I admit, my kitchen is usually filled with piles of dirty dishes, and I don't usually feel very thankful for them. Instead, I tend to wonder how six people can dirty every dish we own in a single meal. But the fact remains, they wouldn't be dirty at all if I were not fortunate enough to be eating several times every day. So, if something as bothersome as dirty dishes is really a blessing, what other blessings in life could I be missing? Are there other things that I hate in life that are, in reality, blessings?

Last week a pipe broke under our sink, and water sprayed all over the kitchen. It soaked the floor, the cabinets, and even made its way to the basement. All this while I was trying to get kids out the door to school. I was mad. It was the third flood we'd had in the kitchen in three years, and the second in just three months. I stormed around the house for a while, but being angry didn't make me happy. I'd been told (and had even told others!) that being grateful for EVERYTHING is the key to happiness, so I decided to try it out. I listed everything I could think to be thankful for about the flood: I was thankful for homeowner's insurance, and a flooding restoration company that we've liked working with in the past. I was thankful that we were home when the pipe broke, so that we could shut the water off immediately. I was thankful for our wet/dry shop vac to be able to clean up the standing water, and for the fact that I didn't have many plans for my day. I was thankful to my neighbor who took charge of the playgroup that I normally run. I was thankful for the paper plates and plastic forks that my in-laws had left by mistake after a family dinner at our home a few days prior. I was thankful for hand sanitizer and baby wipes, since our water was shut off for a good portion of the day, and for gallons of stored water in our basement. I was thankful for school breakfast for my girls who didn't get any at home before they left that morning. And I was thankful that my little ones were so content to watch TV while I took care of all the logistics of cleaning up. I was even thankful that I'd been through the experience before, and knew how much of a disruption it would be. That previous experience helped me get through this one with less stress than before, which was really good because it was a busy week for me. An amazing thing happened as I focused on the blessings of this challenge: I felt happy. I was no longer irritated by the event. I realized that even in my trials, I had a lot to be thankful for.

It was a powerful lesson. The scriptures say to give thanks unto God in ALL things (see Ephesians 5:20). I have to think that means to be thankful for our trials, too. But why? Why should we be thankful for hard things?

Think of military boot camp. The new soldiers are put through an intense experience that is not only physically and emotionally demanding, but full of what many of us would call "bad" experiences. Why? Because there is a final goal that the soldier and all of his trainers are trying to meet. Every boot camp experience is specifically designed to help meet a particular outcome. Even the "bad" parts have their purpose, and boot camp would be incomplete and ineffective without them. Life is the same. I believe that, like those military trainers, God has a plan for what we will become as a result of the experiences of this life. Without the trials of life, our mortal experience would be incomplete and ineffective—we wouldn't reach the final goal. Believing that every trial has its purpose, and that each one is getting me closer to MY purpose, is a great comfort. It provides me with a perspective where I CAN be grateful in all things, because I have faith that there is a purpose for them.

When we reach the point where we can be grateful even for stuff we don't like, life changes. Hard things are not so hard. We see abundance where before we saw lack. We see blessings everywhere, and goodness everywhere, and see that God has not abandoned nor forgotten us. We begin to recognize miracles in our lives. We not only begin to SEE more good, we begin to ATTRACT more good, like a magnet. Gratitude is more than a nice thing, it is a principle that transforms our very nature. It takes practice, but that practice makes life better.