A couple months back, I was asked to speak at an upcoming women’s retreat on the topic of “Thankfulness in the Present.” Something about giving thanks in the mundane, every day, often monotonous, ordinary life. I think I could share a few things (wink).
After all, I understand monotony. As a mom of 4 little ones, my life is pretty much a version of the 1993 Groundhog Day movie. I really do relive the same day. Over. And over. And over. Every morning kids bounding into our bedroom, Annie needs a bottle, get breakfast going, June & Annie need a diaper change… sippys, oatmeal, brush teeth, get dressed (puhlease- that’s Ginger, not me. Let’s be real, my only wardrobe change involves my 2 revolving mom uniforms), make G’s lunch, get her to school (insert lots of screaming, wailing, whining, fighting and more whining all in between here), then come back & put Annie down, do some homeschool for Pearl & Juney (pre-k), (diaper changes along the way), snack, lunch, naps (insert more whining and fighting), pick up Ginger from kindergarten, snack, more diapers, more sippys. And a lot of wiping. Wiping faces, wiping bottoms, wiping countertops, wiping floors, hopefully not all with the same paper towel. I’m sure I wipe other things, too. And I’m tired to think of what comes next.
And poop. So much poop (can be read either literal or figurative).
Get up the next morning and do it again.
And again. And again.
So, as I’ve been preparing for the talk, I’ve been looking at the Old Testament book of Leviticus and particularly the fellowship offering, which was in other words a sacrifice of thanks. Maybe I’ll put those thoughts down at some point, but without going into, it got me thinking about the cost of thankfulness.
It also has me thinking about two extremes of what thankfulness is not. Thankfulness is not one of two friends.
Thankfulness is not your friend who always seems chipper and out of touch with reality. She’s not showing up to life’s deep waters and your tiresome same ole same ole with a huge fake smile, denying all things difficult and talking over you. She does not cut and paste unhelpful cliches of how you should be feeling over your fragile, authentic self. Thankfulness is not insincere nor is she unwilling. She is not using her words as platitudes or weapons that wound. She is not standing there with her head in the clouds, humming songs that are guilt-motivated, fear-based or shame-driven. She’s not that friend you wish was a just a little more self-aware, because if she was… well, she probably wouldn’t be so thankful.
Thankfulness is not, on the other hand, the overwhelmed, over-empathetic friend who goes there with you but gets lost in your story. She’s not commiserating or egging you on or pouring fuel on the flames of your bitter heart when you say that all is vanity. Your story is not discouraging her, she doesn’t have a look of pity in her eyes that says: “Woah” and she’s not trying to answer you questions.
Thankfulness is your friend rather, who is nodding not to confirm or justify- she doesn’t have the power to do that- but to validate and to say she understands and she is going there with you emotionally, even when you say things you both know you don’t mean. It’s a relief to be with her; She’s the one you want to sit with you at the end of a long day because her presence is a peaceful one and you know she is with you in the tiredness and the tension, in the ambiguity and the doubt. She seems to know many things that you don’t, but isn’t condescending about it, and in fact you find it comforting. And you kind of get the feeling like she might surprise you with some sort of gift from somewhere, but then you realize the gift is just being with her. You can tell she’s been through a lot, but doesn’t seem worn down- How is that possible?? And if she smiles, it’s a sincere and reassuring one.
But it costs to be friends with Thankfulness. Because when you sit with Thankfulness, something inside of you dies. And it’s hard to admit, but that’s why you don’t always choose to sit with her.
Don’t get me wrong. Something inside you dies when you sit beside your “friends” of Invalidation and Commiseration as well. They are all three different types of death, but the dying that comes from a friendship with Thankfulness is nonetheless a long and painful one.
… But thankfulness sounds like a good thing. What in the world could it cost me to have a friendship with something so good?
The truth is that a friendship with Thankfulness requires a death to a victim mentality. It means the death to have everyone understand how bad the waves of monotony are beating down- how many diapers I’ve changed, how sick my kids are, how long my husband was gone, how bad I think I have it today. It says no to the Woe is Me (aka I’m Alone) campaign, though it tempts so many times. It allows the negativity of self and others to pass over like a warm and gentle breeze. To embrace Thankfulness means to see illusions of greener grasses somewhere out there for what they are and instead allow myself sweet daydreams of being easily satisfied in my current circumstances.
However counterintuitive it is to choose Thankfulness, when I actually do it… when I give thanks to God in my current, non-exciting, non-glamorous, often monotonous circumstances… When I die to the self-woes of the things that make me tired just thinking about them… When I come with my worn out self and give thanks all the same, the Lord meets me there and makes what is lacking actually enough. And when this happens, it is not a false imitation of enough- it is a transformation that happens inside me where it really is enough.
And then I forget my old friend and the Lord reintroduces us. Again. And Again. And Again.
How do you find that Invalidation & Commiseration keep you from giving thanks?
What have been some costs you’ve counted when you’ve given thanks amidst the monotony?