Practicing gratitude has become something of a trend lately—as if developing an inner sense of thankfulness has numerous mental and physical health benefits is new information! Don't get me wrong; I'm glad it is 'trending' just puzzled to some degree, because I understand gratitude to be a formative process throughout childhood and beyond.
As we all tend to (I imagine), I had assumed others were raised with the same kind of emphasis on gratefulness that my parents instilled in me. So, instead of discussing here 'ways to develop a more grateful child', I'd like to simply lead by example. In a year that ends the same way it started and a time so strange that it is a first for my lifetime, I would like to share with you the things I am thankful for this year.
1. A Pause
The challenges of this year have been beyond stressful in many ways. Yet I look out the window and catch the sun's rays; I see a blue sky and notice the breeze moving the leaves. I wonder, 'Would I be attentive to these things—would I be noticing the crisp autumn air—if things hadn't unraveled as they have this year?' I truly doubt it.
I have been outside more this year, and my attention has been drawn to the simple blessings of the day. I've also been granted new spaces of time in my life because so many things have been canceled or reduced due to restrictions on gathering. If this weren't 2020, chances are I'd be rushing about doing all the stuff of life, and I would rarely pause to notice the gifts of each day.
I am so grateful for the increased spaces in my life—for less busy and rushing here and there, and more settled quiet. Granted, there have been major disruptions to the quiet, like those first few months when all the kids were doing remote learning at home. This brings me to my second item on the list...
2. A School That Supports, Listens, and Cares
It was incredibly stretching to watch the world reel from fear and protocols and pandemic mitigation, and the stretching was felt not only in observing the outside world but in our homes and schools—hitting not only close to home but IN our home! There were days of tears and frustrations, computers that froze and Zoom calls that glitched. The pressure to try to be good students fell heavy on our kids at first. The stress was palpable.
Fortunately, Clapham School monitored the online learning process carefully, re-grouped, adjusted the curriculum and expectations, and made incredible accommodations to ensure that both learning and peace were attainable. I have no idea how difficult it must have been for teachers and administrators during the spring when the world seemed to be falling apart. Clapham went from a school with a no technology policy to a full-fledged online school virtually overnight. My kids were sought out for one-on-one Zoom chats by their teachers. They had Zoom friend visits—initiated by their teachers. It was wonderful!
3. A Child That Wants To Learn
Speaking of school, here is one surprising gift of 2020, at least for our family.
It just so happened that there came a day when our kids had to stay home due to corona-potential. This day was particularly challenging to connect to online school. Two of my kids—each at a different time—got extremely frustrated and said, "I don't like doing school online! I don't learn very well through the screen! I just want to go to school so I can learn!"
It may very well be every parent's dream to hear their kid say something to the effect of: "I just want to go to school to learn things!"
Enter 2020: a dream come true!
2020 has given ample opportunities for refining each of us. I have felt it deeply. I thought I was somewhat of a patient person. But when you need to meet someone on a Zoom call where every half-sentence is broken, you are presented with a choice: patience or frustration.
I have felt these kinds of refining moments repeatedly, especially when I have to don a mask and realize I left it safely tucked away in my car. Returning to the car to retrieve the mask (one more time) is one more inconvenience and nuisance—an interruption to my day and life. It would be easy to live in complaining mode about all the annoying things of 2020. It is why this practice of gratitude is so necessary: we need to adjust our outlook.
All those annoying inconveniences that have suddenly been thrust upon me have given me the opportunity to slow down and grow in patience. I compare it to the shock that comes with bringing home your first baby. No longer can you rush out the door with just keys and wallet. With a new infant, every last resource must be considered—change of clothes for you and baby in case you get spit up on, burp cloth, water bottle for you if you're nursing because that sudden thirst will hit when you don't expect it, the diaper bag, the wipes, and on and on. People generally have nine months to adjust to some of the protocols of new-baby-season. Yet this year, the whole world was asked to make huge adjustments in a matter of days.
I believe we've all perhaps grown more patient, tolerant and resilient (except, of course, when it comes to politics. In that, likely, there is no 'give'—tongue-firmly-in-cheek).
5. Collective Reflection
I have always been, and hope to always be, a self-reflective person. That is, I seek to live in awareness of how I live life. I am aware of how time is spent and how resources are used. I feel that this year, in particular, has lent itself to larger swaths of people engaging in self-reflection. I am not a go-go-go person, but many in my life are. I've seen friends and family slow down and yield to the restrictions of life-on-the-go. Travel has been dramatically reduced or canceled, business opportunities have been lost, and many have had to reassess the end goal of their life's work.
While losses have been tremendous and disappointments abound, we are all invited to a collective reflection: Can I trust God in these losses? Can I grieve in the space granted me by these cancellations? Can I use this time differently than I have been? I'm grateful that more and more, I am noticing people slowing their lives down just enough to ask themselves hard questions.
So much about 2020 has not felt peaceful at all. It has felt disruptive, challenging, stretching, even depressing at times. For some, it has felt a bit like slow torture or a marathon they never intended to run. Even with all the turmoil in the world—anxiety over illness and loved ones, political upheavals, ruined personal plans, mounting losses and disappointments—I have found a settled peace in my soul that 'All Shall Be Well' (to quote the great mystic, Julian of Norwich).
I hear Jesus' words in my ear, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you—not as the world gives..." (John 14). This makes me laugh—'not as the world gives '!?! The world doesn't give peace—hardly any at all. It may attempt to. But it does not yield the kind of peace that confidently resides deep within me—that is a peace only Jesus can give. It is this peace I am grateful for.
7. Material Providence
In the Lord's prayer, we ask, "Give us this day our daily bread." And while I believe that this request refers as much to the Bread of Life (which Jesus speaks of in John 6), it also refers to our daily needs and provisions. In traditions where this prayer is said often, I hope it is not passed over lightly—that all we need, we are to seek from the hand of God. I live this way—daily seeking the God Who provides. I seek not only His provision but also His heart and grace. So, I would be remiss in failing to thank Him for all He does provide—every single day.
"All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided - Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!" says the hymn writer.
Our home is warm enough; we have food on our table. We gather around our table each evening and enjoy a meal—sometimes as simple as soup and bread, and sometimes grander with other provisions. We lack nothing.
When you peel the apples for the pie this thanksgiving, maybe hold it in your hand for just a moment—smell its rich sweetness, reflect on the God who makes apples grow, and be glad for the simple gift.
I'm thankful for apples, electricity, blankets, firewood, the gas in our tank, the few dollars in our bank, that all come from the hand of God. I'm thankful for a husband capable of working, for children who have strong bodies and minds so that they can learn and grow, for vehicles to drive, coats to wear, and for a potted plant in my window. All of these are gifts I'm thankful for.
8. Faithful Leaders
In this pandemic year, I am particularly thankful for school and church leaders who have navigated and made hard decisions for our communities—even to the chagrin of those who disagree with their decisions. I am so grateful that I am not the one making decisions for others, that leaders 'take the hit', so to speak, for making hard calls. I so admire their stamina, faithfulness, integrity, patience, listening ears, and steady leadership. I am less aware of the broader scope of political leaders or health department personnel, but I know many of these are seeking ways to make the best decisions for everyone. They have to put up with cynical, suspicious, angry, and volatile arguments on both sides of the spectrum.
I firmly adhere to what Scripture teaches about governing authorities—that we are called to submit to them (unless they ask us to sin, of course). For church leaders, we should aim to 'make their work a joy and not a burden.' Part of this is thanking them. I am grateful for these leaders who protect and love those they lead.
9. Reclaimed time with our kids
Our home life is far from perfect—we have our friction and personality tensions—a lot! This past year has been such a gift to our family—I almost wonder if God didn't course-correct the whole world, if only for our family. (That's my existential theology coming through!) Our oldest was in his final year of high school. As the oldest and the most tired of being in our family, I'm sure he was biding his time before escaping the dreariness of his siblings annoying him and me asking why he didn't eat his lunch (etc.) Until the pandemic hit, he was filling his life with school, work, and a few church/social activities. He begrudgingly sat at our table for supper, though not every night of the week. I am not saying he was ungrateful; he was merely tired of being a child.
At the same time, our high school junior filled her life with school, babysitting, and a growing social life. We were seeing her less as well. This is the way things progress, and parents learn to adjust and let go as their children sprout wings. But then God stopped the world (or so it seemed), our kids couldn't work. They had few, if any, social gatherings. They even were home during the day for online school. What started as a headache with online school logistics, and the inevitable personality clashed that arise from being cooped up together slowly started to change. What didn't feel like a gift turned out to be a blessing! Slowly, but consistently we began to see huge changes. Our kids played board games...together (oh my!). My husband played a strategic game each evening with our soon-to-be graduate. He would never have taken that time so regularly when he could've been working and earning money! I feel like the final six months of our oldest being at home were totally transformed by the forced changes in the world. It was a gift we could never have reclaimed.
10. God's Sustaining Presence
Here we are in November. In March, April and May, we were all just trying to survive and could hardly think what life would be like six months later. Many of us probably did not believe we would still face these challenges and that life would 'be back to normal' (whatever normal may look like for you). And yet the sun still shines, we are here, we are well (enough), and we have what we need for today.
I am confident that God will continue to show up each and every day for the rest of my life—even in the coming weeks and months. I look ahead to 2021. Instead of wanting more predictability, more 'return to normal', perhaps there is a small yearning for more exploration, more adventure, more resilience, more orienting myself around the things that truly matter.
Maybe 2020 has been a wake-up call—an invitation to return and renew, recharge, repent, re-collect ourselves, and be made anew in the image of our Maker. And I am thankful for that.
Now I ask you, Clapham community, let's encourage each other by sharing what you are thankful for in the comment section below.