Have you ever observed that we humans are not naturally grateful? If you ever stayed after to clean up, replacing the guy who promised to do so but didn’t show, then got criticized for not putting everything back right, you know I mean. Have you ever noticed how people with less are ironically more in touch with the blessing of gratitude than those who are mightily prospered? It is so deeply paradoxical in the ultimate scheme of things. Clearly, formidable barriers to thanksgiving are lodged within and among us. Because they’re invisible, let me try to identify the source with four words starting with the letter ‘E’.
The first barrier to thanksgiving “e”-word is ego. As we just said, in our heart of hearts we pine over what we’ve been denied. We like to perceive ourselves as thankful. We imagine we’re grateful, or that we would be, if only we had a little more. But we are not reflexively thankful, no matter how gifted we become. We get so stuck within ourselves we miss how blessed we truly are. “I thanked you for that,” we insist, even as we clearly forgot to do so. “You must have not have heard me,” we say. But odds are we moved on. It got past us. The second barrier to thanksgiving is related to ego, but different. It is entitlement. It is the feeling that no matter what we have, it should have been more. No matter how generously we are prospered, we still feel cheated by what we lack. And that our sister got more. No matter how abundantly we receive, we had that coming and more. Have you ever met folks who have lost sight their giftedness in life? These are the denizens of daytime television talk shows. That is entitlement. Only grateful people can project grace.
Ego. Entitlement. My third barrier word is Estrangement. When we know trauma, life no longer seems good, never mind God. It could be losing our job, a stark diagnosis, a loved one lost who will remain permanently absent from a Thanksgiving table. When our soul feels empty, we grow numbed to gratitude. We don’t know that God’s heart breaks with ours unless someone who cares about us mediates that grace. Maybe we feel guilty that loved ones have disaster visited on them and we’re fine. Guilt is a big gratitude-killer. But enough with barriers like ego, entitlement, and estrangement, you say. Where is our breakthrough to finding thankful hearts? I do have an “e”-word for that. But it is plain and simple, not so fancy. The word is enough. After worship one Sunday, a visitor drew near me and divulged Mary Poppins’ secret for Thanksgiving, “Enough is as good as a feast.” Alright, that’s a bit campy, but it works well at Thanksgiving. By enough we mean acceptance. Contentment. Peace. In a land with an economic system where having enough is never supposed to happen, it is a powerful thing to learn how to say, “I don’t need anymore. I have everything I need, thank you very much. Right now I am strong enough, prospered enough, blessed enough.” Why are we slow to realize and say this?
Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, said, “One of the big impediments to solving the (world’s big problems) is that too few people have a developed ‘theology of enough’. They keep striving, struggling, and scrambling for more and more things for themselves and are too short-sighted and spiritually immature to see the futility of that grasping lifestyle. The only safe investment one can make in life is what is given away. That can never be taken by anyone. True riches come from a life committed to God’s work in the world.” Ah, perhaps this is why we lift up pledging so close to Thanksgiving.