Monday, August 27, 2012

Pause for thanksgiving (everyday)

I'm as guilty as the next person. It is part of being human, I suppose. At least that is how it feels since most everyone seems to fall into the same trap. We are quick to be thankful for the big things and the monumental moments but fail to acknowledge gratitude for the little things.
Think about it: we pray for traveling mercies when we are flying across the ocean but neglect to be thankful for a safe and successful trip to the grocery store. We sing praises of thanksgiving after a successful surgery but barely even mention health when nothing is causing us pain or discomfort. We thank our neighbors when they bake us a cake but never thank them for the way they so thoughtfully take care of their yard, making it a show piece not only for themselves but for all the neighborhood. We thank people for gifts on birthdays but don't thank them for the important part they play in our lives the other 364 days of the year. We give thanks when it seems like the dutiful response. But what about giving thanks when it isn't prompted? Couldn't we use a bit more spontaneous thanksgiving?

You rarely hear people spewing off thanks for tough situations, broken plans or a mess of a day. It is kind of like a rainy day: everyone complains except those select few who need the rain for crops. They are thanking God for a good dousing of the land while the rest of us are complaining about our hair and giving them odd looks. In life, that is how most of us see the tough stuff or the less than ideal stuff. We see what is wrong with it and then proceed to complain. Those who don't follow suit are given a raised eyebrow and suspicious glance. But really, it is the thankful few who are onto something.

I'm not saying we need to be the person walking around smiling and singing loudly a tune of thanks because our car broke down and we had to walk five miles to get to the nearest pay phone because our cell phone couldn't get service. It may seem a little absurd to be thankful in a situation like that and it is probably asking a bit much to be appreciative of such a circumstance. Let's just start with being thankful for the little things - the day to day blessings that pass us by without so much as a second glance.

When I was younger, maybe in middle school or so, my Dad once told me that when he was thinking negatively he would try this little mental exercise: stop, clear your mind, and think of three things at that very moment to be thankful for. Now, I'm not sure if my Dad actually does this because sometimes he seems to be grumpy for extended periods of time, but the advice is worth paying attention to no matter what our mood may be. As we go through our day we should always be taking time to pause and take note of what there is to be thankful for (trust me, there will always be something).

My first year at college I remembered this advice one day as I was walking across campus. I remember that my day wasn't going as planned. I don't recall the specifics of what had gone wrong and why I wasn't enjoying the blue, cloudless sky day I was surrounded by but I was in a funk, nonetheless. I remember I was walking towards the student union when I remembered my Dad's advice: three things to be thankful for, right now, in this very moment. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked around. The first thing I saw was a little squirrel who, it appeared, was putting on a show. He was running and jumping in an acrobatic fashion as is often the case with squirrels - such show offs. I have always loved squirrels and their tree jumping skills. I've probably admired them because my own gymnastics ability is quite limited, to put it gently. I thanked God for creating a creature so enjoyable to watch.
Next, I looked up and saw the sky. Up until that point in the day I don't think I had noticed that there was not a single cloud in the sky. I thanked God for that, too. I don't remember the third thing I took note of but I do remember the feeling I had right after I finished my pause for thanksgiving: I felt refreshed. The whole world looked brighter and cheerier. Had anything around me changed? Not a bit. Had the circumstances of my day suddenly turned around? Nope. All that had changed was my perception. I had stopped focusing on all that was wrong and started seeing the abundance of what was right.

Every day we have the choice: focus on what we have to be thankful for or neglect to see the blessings that surround us. What we have to be thankful for might seem insignificant or small. The problems might seem to outweigh the positives. Don't fall into the trap of letting the difficulties cloud your view of all the wonderful gifts that you are given. Don't let a day go by where you neglect to give thanks for your multitude of blessings.
Don't just thank God for the big things. Don't just thank God when you have been given a gift or are prompted by circumstance. Thank God in the midst of all things! Whether your day is just going along its normal routine, is filled with unplanned turn of events, is going along swimmingly or is just one rough patch after another: take a moment, clear your mind and give a brief praise of thanksgiving. Trust me, there is always something (actually, many somethings) to be thankful for.

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