It’s that time of year when Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful. Many people use this time to acknowledge parts of their lives for which they are grateful, whether that means sharing around the Thanksgiving table or posting daily “thanks” on social media. Certainly, we have many reasons to be grateful, from food and shelter, to having choices in our own lives. It is important to jar ourselves out of taking much of what we have for granted.
I want, however, to challenge you think about your reasons to be thankful a little differently. Instead of thinking about the typical “good” parts of life for which you are thankful, consider parts of your life that you can be thankful for even though 1) others may see your reasons as negative or 2) you may see them as trials yourself. Trials or not, consider the redemptive strains present in all areas in your life, not just the ones you would usually say while waiting for someone to pass you the mashed potatoes.
As an example, I share my own list below. In suggesting this exercise, I don’t mean to devalue how others have approached the topic. I also don’t mean to ignore that I do have a lot of typical reasons to be thankful (such as that my basic needs are more than met). Instead, I want to see my life as a full story, one in which God is present in every aspect.
Here's my list:
I am thankful I am single. In one sense, if I had pursued marriage in past situations, it would have been unwise and unhealthy. In another sense, I have changed considerably in the past few years, which would have been an even trickier journey if my hypothetical spouse didn’t like the direction I was going. Mostly, however, I have lots of ideas and ambitions. Not that being married would inhibit that, but it would make the process of making choices about my direction more complicated.
I am thankful I do not have children. As a teacher — and an aunt to eight nieces and nephews — I have unusual understanding about the commitment having a child entails. I also know how difficult it is for other teachers to attend to their own children while spending most of their waking hours tending to other people’s children. I am thankful that the balance between children and other parts of my life is not one I currently have to work toward. I am also thankful that I can change my plans at a moment’s notice to help someone who needs it (sometimes, ironically, with their children) or to do something fun.
I am thankful to have a job that does not pay well. It reminds me my job is important. It reminds me I do what I do because I believe it’s important, not because of monetary reward. Being paid “just enough” also keeps me from being too comfortable and makes me more aware of others' needs.
I am thankful I struggle mentally and emotionally. Acknowledging that and continuing to work through it has resulted in growth I wouldn’t exchange. Being honest about it has also helped others feel more comfortable being honest with me in a way we can more deeply support one another. Being honest with myself about it has broken down barriers I had created between others and me and between God and me. Constant reminder of my own weakness is also a constant reminder of my need for grace and redemption.
At my college’s baccalaureate, the college president read a strange prayer. I don’t remember it exactly, but the prayer asked God to bring us trial, disillusionment, and discomfort; essentially, the prayer asked that we be challenged beyond what was familiar or even desirable, that we might better understand God’s heart and be mindful of the needs of others. I called the prayer “strange,” but really, as Christians, that kind of prayer should not be strange at all. Jesus’ definition of “blessed” and reasons to rejoice were more like that baccalaureate prayer than the reasons modern society proclaims (from Matthew 5):
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What if this Thanksgiving were a time to reevaluate the way we count our blessings? What would your list include?
Emily A. Dauseis a public school teacher and a freelance writer. Her writing appears inPRISM Magazine (prismmagazine.org), Teaching Children Mathematics, RELEVANTmagazine.com, and her blog, sliversofhope.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @EmilyADause.