Gratitude Is

Well, here we are again.

Thanksgiving week. The beginning of the holiday gamut – from here until New Year’s, it’s a sprint. A sometimes merry sprint, but often a stressful one, full of shopping and wrapping and baking and delivering and planning and visiting, and and and…

And, it’s still one of my favorite times of the year. Starting with this week, this holiday.

I love Thanksgiving and not just for the stuffing – though it doesn’t hurt. I love that it’s a day, despite its admittedly complicated history, that we set aside to celebrate our blessings and exercise at least some degree of gratitude for all of them.

That the only gifts we focus on are on plates in front of us and in chairs next to us.

But as I was preparing next week’s Sunday School lesson on gratitude, I realized that we can often turn our gratefulness into something less genuine and organic, and something more performative and perfunctory. As usual, I was led and inspired in this by Kate Bowler, in a short series of videos posted on her YouTube from the spring of 2020.

In the first video I watched, she talks about how gratitude can become a script, a way to “manage the experience we have of having our lives be hard” or an “off-ramp” to that challenge and struggle.

It’s something we feel compelled to perform, and have others perform, to manage our discomfort at the way life just sometimes turns out rough.

Everything feels awful right now, butttttttt I’m grateful because…!

And as I kept watching and listening to Kate, I heard her say this: gratitude is not a solution. It will not fix things. It does not take anything out of the “minus column” of your life, or diminish what’s already there.

But she also reminded me of what it is: that gratitude is “the beauty of small details…it is the ability to allow smaller and smaller things to count in the plus column…it is good and beautiful because it is the overflowing of a heart that is full of joy and a brain that can start noticing the little details…it’s an accounting of lovely goodness.”

An accounting of lovely goodness.

Of small details.

Things are hard these days, friends, and I won’t deny it. The days are short and cold, the nights are long and dark. Conversations in our congregation are tense, and they in many ways mirror conversations in the culture around us: divided, discouraged, frustrated. The holidays will bring joy to many and also deep sadness to many.

But in the midst of all this, God is still good, still sprinkling little blessings throughout our days. And so we can still account for that lovely goodness.

We can still notice and celebrate the small details, and let them count in the “plus column.”

Like the way the sunlight plays on my dining room floor in the morning.

The warmth of that first cup of coffee.

The flight of a bright yellow leaf off its tree branch and down to the sidewalk below.

We don’t have to perform gratitude, or use it to mask that life is hard. But we can hold it hand-in-hand with sadness, and find things that are beautiful and lovely and good. That God has left for us to notice. That will help us see that it’s not always and only hardness, but also goodness in our world.

I pray you see more of it, more of these small lovely details, in this Thanksgiving week and in the weeks to come.

-Pastor Jen

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