When I was a kid the family sat down at the dinner table. Dad would either take on the responsibility himself, or he would ask one of us to pray. Visits with Dad’s parents were more extreme. When your grandfather is a reverend, you know you are in for the long haul. We would often get a blessing, a meal, and then a lengthy Bible study afterwards. I am not sure that a child of seven is built for two hours of dinner-table sitting.
The message was clear. We were to be a thankful family. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Give credit where credit is due.
Yet, even with all that being instilled into me from an early age, I have found myself slipping in this area. I eat several times a day, yet I forget to say grace for the feast.
Being thankful for nature comes easily. I have a few practices that help. As part of my daily routine, I ride the bus. At certain times of the year, the view is one of mountains and sunsets. The work day is much less laborious when you can take a few minutes and take in Mount Rainier basked in sunlight.
A somewhat less majestic scene, but still a calming one, is that of Lake Union/ Salish Bay. Every afternoon, I force myself to put down my book for a few minutes and catch a glimpse of the water. With all the concrete and cityscapes in the world, the presence of a massive lake does my soul good. I appreciate the splash of blue, with green on the periphery, and remind myself that it is not all gleaming towers and gray sidewalks. Washington surrounds me with nature.
Sharing a workplace with whippersnappers has been another avenue for thankfulness. At first, it was irksome. “Why do I have to keep thanking these Millennials for doing their job? They’re getting paid. Isn’t that thanks enough? I have to thank them for taking out the trash? Really?”
I still harbor notions about how often one needs to be cheered on for doing their job. However, there is an effect of this that I did not realize until years later. It creates a thankful attitude in the person giving the kudos. I started noticing the little things that were being done. I found myself acknowledging more and more work that others were doing. It was not just about making sure that they heard the compliment; it was also about me giving the praise.
The same notion carries over into my customer interactions. People have been extra closed-off in the last year. Masks on, headphones in, phones going the whole time; there has not been much interaction. As each person leaves, I still give them a, “Thanks” or “Thank you”. Granted, it is the polite, customer-service sort of thing to do. More importantly, it also gives me more opportunities to cultivate thankfulness in my noggin.
I try to use my apartment in this goal. I have a length of note cards going from my fireplace to my bookshelves to my entryway to my bedroom. Each card has something I am thankful for. My attributes that I like about myself are one color, people that I love are another color, and my favorite places have their own color. It is not a complex system. When you have dozens of blessings written out, and you walk from room to room pondering them all, it is hard to complain about the one or two things you do not have.
Then there is my plant. My window-view that I fell for when I moved in was fenced off. The main road outside was redone, the city demanded the apartment complex make a change, and the decision was to place an eight-foot fence right outside my window. I am obliged that they at least made the fence out of wood. But when I get home and relax after a long day, I prefer to look at live trees.
So my plant is my saving grace. And by plant, I mean fern. I went so far as to ask the landscapers not to trim the area outside my window. If I turn in my bed “just so”, I can see this little bit of foliage. There are rocks. There is a walkway going past. There are steps and support beams. Yet breaking through all of that is life. The greenery will not be held back by the pervasive grayness. In the same way that sidewalks and retaining walls have their grass shoots that stick out here and there, I have my plant that is there for me. And I am grateful.
I am a work in progress. I went through a twenty-one-day devotional on gratitude. Most of it was what I suspected it would be. The one thing that stuck out was saying grace before a meal. I was reminded how effortless it is for me to eat whatever I choose. In a world where many of us are unemployed and one billion people do not have easy access to clean water, I can make oatmeal in less than two minutes or have pizza in a dizzying array of varieties. (As to the cheese in the crust debate? That seems like asking too much from the world. Too much decadence for me. If you need that sort of excess, I shall not dissuade you.)
I have a large library of movies and books at my disposal. I have a cat who has… let us call them, “expressive qualities”. My roof does not leak and my bed is warm. I go to sleep with food in my belly. It is no surprise, also no excuse, that I have so many blessings in my life that I often forget to give thanks for them.