November 20, 2018
By Holly G. Bandel
What started as a gratitude exercise for myself ended up turning into an experiment on giving thanks for the entire family.
I bought a little pumpkin chalkboard from the dollar store and hung it in our playroom. Each day, I tried to write down something for which I was grateful. Ok, the reality is it was probably every other day. But each time, I would go in and erase the words from the previous time and write new ones: a friend’s new baby, a good meal, a day off, our church, family fun, etc. Although it hung right there in the playroom, I kept forgetting to tell my children about my gratitude notes.
Then after about five days, I passed by the board and noticed that, in my oldest son’s handwriting (which is unmistakable, by the way), was the word ‘bowling’. We had gone with a group of families from the church to Zone 56 family bowling the night prior. He told me he had so much fun. I didn’t even realize he was aware of the board or what I was doing writing short phrases on it every other day. . A few days afterward, I was changing what was on the chalkboard, and he asked if he could do it. He didn’t need me to control it, mandate it, or make him take turns with his brother to do it – he just wanted to participate in giving thanks. A simple practice would engage his sense of involvement and creativity in a way that I could have never structured.
Giving thanks this week can become rote or forced just like any practice we have on our faith journey. The act of giving thanks helps center and move us to a profound sense of who God has created us to be and become. Whether it is a psalm read, serving with another, or conversation around a table, this act of spontaneous thanks brings us to a deeper place of being reminded that we are created for gratitude.
This month, I have been learning new ways to give thanks— not so much about a list or a tradition, but rather how I can not only give thanks but also be willing to receive it. I have come to believe that in order to really be in line with what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of people and the world around me, I need to be willing to both give and receive. This action of receiving empowers others to give thanks instead of taking it upon myself to do it all. Keeping this spiritual practice only between me and God limits the power of how we see what God is doing already.
In Luke 17, Jesus heals 10 lepers and then it says, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.” We participate in that thin line of grace to receive thanks without expecting it, to receive thanks from those you least expected, and to be grateful spontaneously.
I hope that you and those you love have a thoughtful, spontaneous, giving and receiving kind of week that lasts. Happy Thanksgiving!