Friday, November 24, 2017

Stop Being Thankful?

It’s Black Friday and I am up way too early and waiting around almost like everyone else, wondering if this is worth it. You know, wondering if we really learned anything about being thankful yesterday while gorging on turkey and stuffing, or in my case, ribs. Now, I’m not in a store shopping, I'm up waiting to go back to sleep because at 42 years old, I am getting to learn about how thankful I am for little things like toilet paper at 6AM. Sitting around waiting to get tired enough to get to go back to sleep so I can at least feel like I got to sleep in on a day off, is almost as much fun as waiting around to get something you never knew you needed until it is 75% off at 4AM for one day only. 

We hear a lot about being thankful and learning to be thankful as we grow up. Currently I’m still trying to figure it out as I raise my kids; but maybe that’s the wrong goal. I am not making some big, huge new parenting declaration here, I’m just making an observation and talking it though with you all because my bladder decided I should be up this morning. So here it goes. 

Should we focus on thankfulness or contentment?

I remember growing up having adults tell me and other kids that “you need to learn to be thankful”. I, like every other kid, have gotten the look on a birthday or Christmas that promptly tells you, “you will act thankful for the white socks that are 3 sizes too small that you got from Grandma’s aunt that came to the party this year…don’t say anything but ‘thank you’…do not embarrass me a parent or you may stop breathing…are we clear”. What I have learned is that being thankful gets way harder the older you get if you don't understand contentment. This is partly due to the fact that most adults harp on the act of being polite and call it thankfulness-leaving the heart out. I made this mistake with Peter when he was about 2 1/2 years old. We were all sitting around the table for a meal and he look at Kirsten and boldly said “I want more juice”. Being a good Dad I looked at him firmly and said, “Peter, what do you say to your Mother?” Because after all, you need to be stern with this young misguided kid so they don't grow up not being thankful, right? Peter looked at me, looked at Kirsten and you could see the wheels turning, the gears grinding as he contemplated the next words that would come out of his mouth. With apprehension and a lot of uncertainty he looked at me and the words that come out of his young, innocent 2 year old mouth, “I, I wannn’t morrre juice???” Ding, ding, ding, I needed to learn something that morning…not him. I was so concerned with teaching thankfulness (politeness) that I missed being content with Peter. He had just learned to simply say what he wanted when we asked him. He wasn't being rude, I just didn't meet him where he was at.  

Fast forward a year later, and I am sitting in a wheelchair after I got hurt and the kids are being polite and thankful for all the gifts that people were getting them for Christmas. I, on the other hand, was a mess. The guilt that I couldn't get anything for my kids was overwhelming. I was thankful, but far from content. This emotional dilemma went on for many years, fueled by the mis-teaching that my generation received on politeness over thankfulness. Life sucked. We were never taught about the relationship of contentment, thankfulness, grace and giving. 

I had to learn a few tough lessons in order to even come close to understanding what it meant to be thankful. The first lesson came one day when I was having a conversation with a mentor about not being comfortable receiving anything from anyone else. He looked me in the the eyes and asked, “Geremy, do you take joy in giving to others?” I replied “ Well, yes, what’s that have to do with it?” He answered, “Then why would you take the joy away from someone who wants to give to you?” Yep that stung and took a little time to get over. The next lesson is this: as a culture we are so worried about safety, that we do everything possible to prevent anything bad physically and emotionally from happening to us. The unintended consequence is that we lose the opportunity to overcome, the opportunity to learn faith. It is interesting to see the look on peoples’ faces when I tell them that one of the best things that ever happened to me was getting hurt.The third lesson is this: no matter how hard you work to change your circumstances, life still happens. The difficulties in life aren’t personal, they just happen. When we take them personally, we skew our understanding of grace. We don't deserve anything, grace is getting what we don't deserve.

Contentment is interesting because it changes your view on a whole lot more than you think. It changes how you are thankful. Contentment is being ok with whatever you get. It means you are ok with financial security or wondering where your next pay check is coming from. It means you are thankful for the success of other and the toys they are able to get, while not craving anything more for yourself. It’s not about politeness, it’s about being at peace with what you have and where you are at. 

Yes, life is worth waiting around for, both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the frustrating and the success. Many years ago a young man said it best, “God will get us through this, but if He doesn't, that’s ok.” So as we go through the holiday season let’s learn contentment and thankfulness. 

I wonder what the chances are that I can fall back to sleep…

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

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