For those of you who know me well (or read this blog each fall), you know that I love the changing of the leaves during Fall. Fall is my favorite season of the year – the cooler weather, the crunch of leaves, and the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges that take your breath away. The leaves turned later than usual this year in Virginia, so I have had time to enjoy their beautiful journey until now. Just this week, a light wind was blowing, and a tree was raining down yellow leaves like a flower girl before the bride. Some people like to stop and smell the roses. I like to stop and revel in the beauty of God’s changing leaves.
Watching and being fed spiritually by that beauty this year led us to creating a Thanksgiving Tree at Youth Group this past Sunday. We took a poster with a bare tree, and then used our post-it notes to cover the tree with things for which we are grateful. We had five categories, including family, relationships, creation, God, and school/work. I challenged the group to write down three things in each category – not just a one-word response, but an explanation of their gratitude. Perhaps 15 notes seemed like overkill to the young adults, but what I was hoping was that the more they thought about the blessings in their lives, the less space the negative would have in their hearts and minds.
That is my prayer for each of you this week as we head into Thanksgiving celebrations. Though we may have Normal Rockwell images of Thanksgiving Day meals in our minds, and although some of you may actually get that experience, the reality of most meals, especially if spent with family, is that they will include a fair share of conflict. If you are lucky to avoid talking about politics, some other family drama will surely emerge. Expecting that conflict, I invite you to start praying your thanksgivings. If your crazy family promises to bring angst, start praying now about the things that bring you joy about each member of your family. You may have to dig deep (Lord knows your uncle’s jokes can drive you insane – but maybe you can thank God for predictability with your uncle or for the knowing glances of your cousins). But my guess is that the more you start looking at your family or friends with the eyes of gratitude, there will be a lot more space in your heart and mind for blessings than curses.
If you can master that practice of thanksgiving prayers throughout one of the more stressful days of the year, perhaps you can carry that prayer practice through the next month. As you hone that spiritual discipline for the next month, you may find it becomes easier to carry it into the next year. Given our current climate, we are going to need all the space we can get for blessings.