I don’t know about you, but I find my spiritual life has hills and valleys. There are times when I feel especially close to God, and that closeness leads to a sense of overflowing gratitude. And there are times when I fill up the extra space in my life with everything but God. In those valleys, I sometimes feel God is far away – mostly because that is where I pushed God. In those times, gratitude is often the last thing I experience. Instead, I can be irritable and short-tempered.
In order to stay out of those valleys of self-absorption, I have found I need intentional practices of gratitude. Celebrating Thanksgiving Day tomorrow helps put most of us in a spirit of gratitude (assuming we are not in a spiral of menacing traveling conditions, dread about time with challenging family members, or anxiety about food preparations). But this year, I have found that I am coming into Thanksgiving Day with a full cup. I am working on a stack of thank you notes for the generous pledges our parishioners have made to our church; the generosity of our parishioners makes writing the notes a joy. Our church has been negotiating a new partnership which looks like may come to fruition; it is the culmination of a lot of dreams, most of which began before my arrival, and the promise of fulfillment is at times overwhelming. And our church has two different services for Thanksgiving: one with our ecumenical brothers and sisters, and a mass on Thanksgiving Day; both are occasions for deep joy and gratitude.
The thing about these events and experiences is they cultivate in me a spirit of gratitude. When my spirit is primed for thanksgiving, every time I take a walk or hop in my car, I find a breathtaking tree that has hit its peak fall color. When my spirit is primed for thanksgiving, the little things my family does – an unprompted “thank you,” a cleaning up of the kitchen, a spontaneous hug – all make my heart warmed. When my spirit is primed for thanksgiving, I see the daily tasks of others that go unnoticed: the county worker clearing a dead animal from the street, the childcare provider who sees my child being extra clingy and swoops her up in a big, distracting hug, or the administrator who has already thought about the things on my mind and started the projects I need accomplished.
If your spirit has not been primed, there is still time. Perhaps you can start with tomorrow’s celebration, looking for glimpses of hope and blessing throughout your day (even in the midst of family drama, I promise you can find those glimpses!). But do not let the thanksgiving end there. Find ways to enrich your spirit each day: whether it is putting on lenses of gratitude, taking up a tangible practice, or surrounding yourself with others who are naturally inclined toward an attitude of gratitude. My suspicion is you will find your cup running over soon, and that overflow can be a blessing to others!