As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know how to be grateful anymore. I tried to say a little prayer as I went to bed tonight (something I seldom do), and was stopped cold after just a few thoughts.
“Dear Father, thank you for my many blessings. Thank you for home, and family, and friends, and health; food to eat—” and then, wait.
Why do I have these things when so many others don’t?
Am I presuming God has chosen to “bless” me above billions of his other children on earth?
I barely get the bills paid in a small, dirty, condominium in a tough neighborhood. But I am truly glad that, for every day of my life, I have had shelter and warmth, clothing, clean water, and plenty of food; not to mention a car, TV’s, phones and more. I have more wealth and amenities than probably 80% of people on earth. Why would God “bless” me and not them?
I am glad that I can walk or drive around town, or even across the country, without fear of roadside bombs, terrorists, civil war, chaos, and crossfire between government forces and rebels. But does that mean God has chosen to protect me and not the people of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, and elsewhere?
I have some health problems, but for the most part my mind and body have always been healthy and strong. Why are so many others “blessed” with blindness, defects, deformities, and disease?
I have loving parents, family, and friends who bring me happiness. How blessed are those who have never had a good home and parents, nor anyone to nurture and care for them, and whose broken lives reflect that reality?
In recent years millions of people have been killed, or lost family members, homes, and all their belongings in Louisiana, Haiti, Japan, and now New York and New Jersey. Many, if not most, of those people prayed a lot better than me, and loved their neighbor better than I do. And why do so many people who do live in joy and gratitude suffer in places where there is no access to clean water, where the land is barren and will not grow food?
Over the last few years I have questioned and doubted, even changed many of my old thoughts about God and religion. I wonder if I am asked to say a prayer at my Father’s Thanksgiving table this year, whether I can even utter the traditional words about God’s bountiful grace and abundance without feeling like a hypocrite publicly bragging about the gold and riches I have because of God’s favor.
So the problem is that you’ve conflated (combined into one) gratefulness and compassion.
Who knows why you have the blessings you do? Maybe God has blessed you because he likes the way you wear your hair. Maybe it’s because he wants you strong so that you can do something specific he has in mind for your life. Maybe he just drew a straw and you won. You don’t know why you have what you do.
But the one thing you do know is that you’re grateful for what you have. I sure hope you are, anyway. It sounds like you are.
So cool! Be grateful! Would you want to be the kind of person who isn’t grateful for what he has?
Gratefulness is an emotional dynamic complete unto itself. It’s pure. You start attaching conditions to it and you wreck it. Allow your gratefulness to be the unadorned natural response to life that it is.
Think of it from God’s perspective. How would you feel if you gave a special, wonderful gift to someone whom you love very much, and instead of being happy to receive it—instead of them going, “Thank you so much! This is great!”—they went, “Pfft. So what? Think of all the stuff you didn’t get other people.”?
You’d be, like, “What? Gimme that back, you insufferable complainer. And go see a shrink.”
Be grateful for what you have. Being thankful for what you have is not the same thing as not desiring others to have what they don’t. I have a home. That doesn’t mean I don’t also wish homeless people had a home. It just means I’m grateful that I do. It’d be offensive to the homeless person to not be grateful for my home.
You have two obligations in life, the same as everyone else: to be thankful for what you have, and to work toward others having what they don’t. Not only are those two not mutually exclusive, they complement one another. They fuel one another. They’re opposite sides of the same coin.
Jesus declared the greatest commandment of all to love God, and to then love your neighbor.
Love God by expressing your gratefulness for all that he/she has given you. And then show God that you’re serious about that gratefulness by getting busy doing what you can to make sure that others can enjoy the same kinds of blessings you do. That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s all you can do.