Giving thanks is a matter of perspective
“Said the little girl as she asked for more, but what is the turkey thankful for?'”
I was 4 years old, maybe 5, when I memorized that little rhyme. It has stuck with me all these years not only because it is easy to remember, but also because of the meaning of it. Perspective. Viewing something from someone else’s standpoint. Standing where that person is standing, and seeing what is to be seen.
Many long years ago, early in my ministry, which began in the Kansas City area, after referring in a sermon to shelterless people who slept under bridges at night, a church member expressed her astonishment. Not that there were such people. But that she hadn’t given thought to those who had less than what she had. She had been so focused on others who had more … a bigger house, a newer car, more expensive clothes. She envied “those people,” compared herself to “them.” Jealousy eroded her gratitude. It was a disturbing moment for her to recognize that her discontent had to do with a skewed picture of what she believed life should be. She always wanted more. She found it difficult to be thankful for what she did have because in her mind it paled in comparison to what others had.
Perspective. Experience enlarges it. Age adds to it. Of course there’s nothing wrong with dreams and aspirations and the goals we set to lift them from the drawing board of our lives to the everyday living, breathing reality of our lives.
But it’s when gratitude gives way to grousing and grousing to grasping that we can make ourselves miserable.
And unnecessarily so. Do we miss the wonder of “daily bread” just because it is not everything we might want arranged on a very large platter?
The pandemic carries with it in its dark despair the possibility of teaching us. A wider lens.
A deeper well. A different perspective. Not having, not being able to, not experiencing full freedom to… these “nots” are painful instructors. And it’s important to name our sadness the way a child points to where the boo-boo hurts. But the healing of our grief may also involve seeing the difficulty of this season from a different perspective. What does someone on a ventilator have to be thankful for?
What does a Bluestem employee have to be happy about? What can first responders and emergency room nurses be grateful for?
Because my perspective on life includes the frame of the Christian faith, I appreciate the writings of the Bible. Stories of the journeys of the Israelites and the life of Jesus and the travels of Paul have enriched my understandings of what an incredibly beautiful and brief gift our time on earth is.
I especially appreciate the wisdom of Paul who suffered much and succeeded more in sharing the good news of God’s deep and unending love for humanity. Several verses from his letter to the fledgling community of believers in Philippi come to my mind in these dark days: “I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”
Relying on someone other than ourselves is not always comfortable for us. But it can be life-giving.
Whether that someone is God or a trusted friend or a faithful partner, give thanks because the source of our strength is truly something to be thankful for.
Rebecca Taylor is pastor at the First Presbyterian Church. She can be reached at email@example.com