Thankful To Know The Difference
Thanksgiving Reflection 2015
I have always preferred the word thankful to grateful. They are synonymous but I always felt reluctance to write a gratitude list. It was full of silly things like, “I am grateful that the window opens and closes.” Sometimes it is true that the act of writing a list can change your attitude. You may, in fact, be grateful for your new windows, but it feels forced. Reflects a backward look that seems selfish to me.
For me gratitude is a result. It is the feeling that comes as the result of my positive actions. Positive actions that result when I am thankful. The thankfulness is a spiritual repayment for having asked for help and receiving it. And this leads me to more and more action.
If I am thankful, I do more for others because I am compelled to “do unto others as I would have them do unto me.” It is the opposite of resentment. Bill W., in some of his writings said, he believed people have confused the notion of gratitude. “ It is not about the past, it is about the future.” If you have gratitude you are serving others. Which, if you know the AA program, is about the 12th step – carrying our message to others. The message is that you can get better. Never does it or should it be telling you who god is and what he says by the way. Today, I determine gratitude in others, by looking at what they are doing. Are they helping others, opening doors, serving food, cleaning up, and driving someone to the store or simply buying and doing things for themselves only?
Gratitude is not words it is actions. It is the result of thankfulness and appreciation for what has already been received that leads us forward into better and better living.
There seem to be fewer and fewer people in our world whose actions reflect “an attitude of gratitude.”
When we search our lives for meaning, consult our various faith traditions, are we not usually looking to strengthen our beliefs? In essence, we are seeking. Remember when you were young and learning to cross the road? A parent would say, “stop, look, go.” Today, with the complex dangers of the world I would add to these words, when you look you might also listen, before you go. It is in this looking and listening that I usually ask for help. Despite popular belief our weakness often leads us to ask for help and in this asking we are humbled not inflated. I have always found similarities when I am down, not differences. Ego asks only questions, never answers them. Craving more and never having enough is its most significant characteristic.
Our world has somehow forgotten this. It does not know when to “pause when agitated or doubtful.” Where fear used to take us inward, it now seems to project outward with disturbing and hateful rhetoric. We are forgetting the wisdom of the golden rule, a version of which appears in all cultures. When I improve my conscious contact (call it god if you like but the name is not nearly as important as the intent of the prayer) there is always a significant change in how I see myself, and the world.
As an older man, a graduate student, I studied literature. Two writers had a profound effect on my thinking. Both where deeply spiritual men, who used words to promote love and tolerance, not hate. William Blake and Henry David Thoreau both broke barriers and responded to major changes in their worlds. The later spoke often about the importance of valuing what we have and who we are. It is not about where we will get or what we will get. The way to be at peace now, in the present, as Thoreau said was to live in thankfulness. “My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence.”
When I am thankful, I see only love. I guess the world today is not thankful and it is certainly not enough to be thankful only today. It is, however, a start.
Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may combine into being. Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone makes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.” When we go deep beyond the surface, as we do when reading, we can find what units and bonds us to each other.
Whether you call it gratitude, thankfulness, or love does not matter. Your positive attitude will lead to the service of others. These words lead to unity. When we chose resentments we perpetuate the need to separate and divide. If our religion is promoting this, it may be time to leave it behind. Man-made rhetoric, religion, is not spiritual life. Stop, look and listen inside, then go forward – it is between you and your God.
The events of the world today are calling for us to unite. And while lobbing words like bombs might temporarily elevate us and make us feel safe… others in the world may turn and do unto us what we have done unto them. We should not incite retaliation.
On a recent school visit I noticed a box on the floor in the corner labeled “For The Food Drive.” This was an inner city classroom full of students – diverse races and creeds. On the surface what they had in common was as children of poverty they receive free hot lunch. But underneath, it was compassion. Again, the children understand: children of poverty giving to children and families of poverty! If you are thankful for what you have, if you appreciate even the little things, you will serve others and pay it forward.
I am thankful to know, “there but for the grace…”