It can often seem a small thing to say thank you. As a parent, I coach my children with these words regularly, “say thank you,” whether for a meal, a day, a gift. When they begin to turn to complaints of boredom or inconvenience or unfulfilled wants, I listen and often respond, “I hear you. Now tell me something you’re thankful for.” Mostly, in those moments, they’re annoyed and mutter their list with long exasperation. I can feel the same way when I’m enjoying a good moment of self-pity. Still, each time, it shifts something in their little hearts, even if it’s just enough to help them over an invisible hump and direct them onward.
I have recently been dwelling on the 23rd Psalm, poetic lines so common I almost miss their significance. Here, we read the ways God shepherds us: how he protects us in dark valleys and leads us into rest by quiet waters, how he restores us and prepares feasts for us in the midst of enemies. ”Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all of the days of my life,” the psalmist adds. Perhaps this is where I have paused the most lately, allowing these words to roll around my heart, to steep. Goodness follows us. Every. Day.
Generally, it feels easier for me to give thanks when circumstances happen the way I want, when life feels smooth and pleasureful. Yet in a culture that allows me daily visual peeks into friends’ and strangers’ lives alike, I can easily become wedged in by that want. Instead of gratitude, my thoughts and sight can become directed to lack, to struggle, to the hard things. I can become frantic inside, afraid I won’t get what I want, what I need. In better moments, I’ll remind myself that everyone has difficulties to overcome even when we don’t see or know about them. I remember the sweet people in our lives who have helped and given of themselves to us. I remember God’s faithfulness and provision for me, for our family. But sometimes I hit places where circumstances feel insurmountable, that I’ve somehow missed a sign leading us to [healthier, easier, wealthier, etc] lives. In these places, gratitude is a discipline. The practice of thanking God or other people in our life is a way to train my eyes and heart to see the gain instead of the deficit, the gifts instead of the loss. Gratitude focuses my attention to goodness. It teaches me that pleasure and goodness are not always the same. Goodness follows us where pleasure cannot: into the hard things. Every day.