It is the ingratitude that blinds us.
Our failure to see what we have on the way to getting more;
our disregard for what we step over on the way to somewhere else;
our lack of attention to the person by our side on the way to someone else;
our dismissal of the good that we do on the way to something greater.
All that we take for granted falls through our hands and disappears from sight.
And we, too, fall away from ourselves and You.
We walk by ourselves by the wayside and do not recognize
You on the way to something better.
I don’t know about you, but with me, God likes to drive his point home in more than one way. Maybe it’s because I’m a very slow learner, but most of the time, He sends me multiple messages on the big ideas He really wants me to get. And still, I sometimes don’t get it.
But then sometimes I do.
My kids HATE that all the Christmas decorations come out before the jack-o-lanterns and candy corn have even been moved to the half price shelf. They think it’s a big gip that the stores start commercializing Christmas without even a nod of acknowledgement to one of their favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. “I guess they just don’t care about Thanksgiving since nobody gives presents. They can’t make any money,” Isaac said.
Hmmm… pretty astute (and maybe a little cynical for an eight year old).
For both Harper Lee and Isaac, Thanksgiving is a big deal. It’s true that they both love pie (even giving up birthday cakes this year in lieu of birthday pies), but mostly, it’s because they really love to hang out with family. They get what the holiday is all about. They get the gratitude part of it. They understand the significance of togetherness.
Last week, our Prayer of Reconciliation (the one at the top of this post) really struck a nerve. Stepping over where we are on our way to somewhere else? Not paying attention to the people we’re with right at this moment on our way to someone else? Dismissal of all the good we do on our way to something greater? Turning a blind eye to what is right in front of our noses as we desperately seek something that is just beyond the horizon?
Message number one– coming in loud and clear, God.
Then a friend from church, someone I was getting to know and quickly becoming very fond of, died quite unexpectedly. On Wednesday night, she was breaking bread with us at the church table, and by Sunday morning, she was gone. She loved to dance and laugh and tell a funny story. When I spoke to her long-time friend about it, he said, “She knew how to live life.” I thought about her all week and felt a deep sadness, not only at the loss of such a good person who I was only beginning to know but also at the knowledge that I don’t always know how to live a good life. I try, but I often fail. See above paragraph.
Message two– I hear ya.
Then, this Sunday, I decided to teach a lesson on hospitality to my youth Sunday School class. I thought it would be fun to cook breakfast to share with the little ones, so I landed on a lesson about Mary and Martha that included baking muffins. What started off as a prelude to Thanksgiving lesson on hospitality, warmth and the joy of sharing a meal with friends became a lesson for me on focusing on what matters. I am, admittedly, a Martha through and through. I was raised by a Martha. I get her. And at times, I feel like saying, “Yeah, Mary, get in the kitchen and help out a little, sister.” But then Jesus speaks up. (That guy. Always throwing stuff out that contradicts what’s going on in my head.) Mary has chosen the better part. “Well, that turkey’s not going to cook itself,” I want to shout, but then I realize, I’ve been given my third message.
In this time of Thanksgiving, let me encourage each of us to choose the better part. Advent is upon us, and with that comes the inevitable holiday rush. Instead of a time of sweet contemplation and waiting for the Christ child, we lose our minds in a frenzy of shopping, traffic jams and obligatory parties. We scream at other people who cut us off at red lights, we purposely shove our way in front of others who are too slow at the registers, we rack our brains over what meaningless gift we can buy for Uncle Bert not because we want to but because we don’t want to show up empty-handed. We forget the spirit of Christmas and instead feel bitter resentment over all the things we “don’t have time for.”
We rush headlong into a holiday season weeks in advance and come out on the other side often deflated and disappointed– let down by all the build up. Why not, for once, try it another way? For just this year, why not cut out the things that don’t really bring us joy? Why not opt for homemade gifts or, heck, no gifts at all? Aside from fun things for the kids, why not agree with friends that time together is what you all look forward to and forgo last minute trips to Wal-Mart? Why not stay in for the evening and sit in front of the fire with the kids instead of trying to cram in one more office party? Why not make less food and spend more time sitting around the table?
Let this Thanksgiving mark a new kind of Advent season, a new kind of happy holiday. After all, we are not thankful because we are happy; we are happy because we are thankful.
Have a happy Thanksgiving filled with hospitality and togetherness.