It’s Christmas Day, and the house is quiet. The rest of the family is asleep. No, it’s not early morning; we were awake at six. But after two worship services last night and another this morning, none of us got enough sleep. So at 11:30 we all were sent to bed for a nap.
But I couldn’t sleep. So instead of the nap I need, I’m getting some quiet. After this busy week, maybe I need the quiet more.
I’m sitting here surrounded by abundance. Each of us has a pile of gifts, with way more than we need. We are not wealthy by any stretch of the American imagination. Our daughter’s “haul” will undoubtedly be less than that of many of her friends. Still, we have so much. I wonder if she’s grateful. Oh, she said “thank you” several times, and she is very aware that other kids aren’t as fortunate as she is. Of course, she is equally aware that some kids have more, too. I know she appreciates her presents and the effort we put into getting them. But are we teaching her to be grateful?
How do you teach gratitude? How do you cultivate it? How do I, as a person of faith, express my gratitude? How do I, as a pastor, teach it to others?
During Lent last year I invited members and friends of my church to keep a gratitude journal. Every day they were asked to write down something specific for which they were thankful. A number of people kept their journals on Facebook, which was wonderful because we all got to share in one another’s joy.
But gratitude isn’t all about joy.
Take, for example, the trees outside my window. When I was younger, I used to hate winter. The bare trees were so stark and depressing. Now I look at these trees and I realize how much better I can see the squirrels and birds when they’re not hidden by foliage.
Similarly, I remember a time when I took a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway near my home in North Carolina. I stopped at a scenic overlook and watched a storm blow in across the mountains. It was breath-taking. Then some tourists stopped, took one look at the view, complained that there wasn’t any sunshine, and got back in their car. I wasn’t sorry to see them go, but I was sorry for their sake that they couldn’t see the beauty in the storm.
Maybe this is part of gratitude. Being aware of the beauty in the storm, the joy in the pain, the hope in the turmoil.
Well, my daughter is up now. She has been uncharacteristically quiet for the past ten minutes. I’ve been watching her, so adorable in her panda hat, so intent as she writes in her new journal. Sometimes I am so overcome by my love for this child I didn’t give birth to that I just cry. It’s the only response I have to a heart so full.
I don’t know if I am doing a very good job of teaching her gratitude. But she is doing a wonderful job of teaching me.