Well, happy Thanksgiving, reader friends.
Thanksgiving is all about abundance and gratitude, two concepts that sort of go hand in hand. I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. My daily prayer time has evolved a little lately. Right now, the outline is opening with thanks and praise, moving into confession, accepting grace and forgiveness, an examen (sort of a “gut check” where I share “where my head and heart is at” with God–without making a lot of judgments about it), followed by requests and concerns, and then the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father, for our RC friends.)
So anyway, thanks and confession both cultivate a sense of gratitude. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an enneagram Four. The classical sin associated with type Four is Envy, but I don’t think Fours have the market cornered on envy by any stretch of the imagination. Our current western/American culture is methodically designed to cultivate envy, because let’s be honest, envy sells stuff. Showing me a shiny new iPod is all well and good, but if you want to make me go from wanting that iPod to thinking I need it, show me someone else (preferably someone cooler, younger and thinner than I am) using it.
Bear in mind, I work in marketing and advertising. It’s my job to figure out devious and clever ways to persuade folks to part with their hard-earned cash. So I know whereof I speak. As a marketing strategy, envy works. As a life strategy, not so much.
Gratitude is the antidote for envy. Envy is essentially negative–it focuses on what is lacking. Gratitude forces us to focus our attention on the good that is there (which we usually ignore).
Gratitude is closely linked to abundance. Abundance, I’m learning, is a mindset more than a situation. Abundance is acknowledging that I have more than enough.
“Enough” is a tough word for us to wrap our heads around, isn’t it? In the Roman Empire, ahem, I mean America, “enough” is practically a dirty word. Why stop at “enough”? More is better, right? Why, if you stopped at “enough” achievement, ambition, money, stuff–you’d be one of those slacker Generation Xers. You might turn into one of those crazy stay at home dads or realize that you don’t actually need outrageously expensive wicker baskets to love your family and organize your home.
It’s easy for me to point out that end of the ingratitude spectrum because I pretty much am a “slacker Generation Xer.” I’m a hard worker, but those who know me know that chasing “more, bigger, shinier” has not been my primary issue in regards to stuff. My problem is a little subtler, but just as bad. I know I have enough, most of the time (although I’m certainly not immune to iPhone envy and the like!) I usually lean towards the other end of the ingratitude spectrum–I take God’s Providence for granted. Terribly, terribly for granted.
I assume that my basic needs are going to be met. I know that I have more than enough. And I use that as an excuse to be lazy.
People who know me know that I am, in fact, a hard worker–when I’m doing something I’m passably decent at or want to do. Sitting down and dealing with my finances? I’d rather chew a roll of aluminum foil. Seriously.
I’m going to be painfully honest here. We are currently without phone service. Not because we don’t make enough money to pay our bills, but pretty much because we don’t make enough money to ignore our finances entirely for months, and still pay our bills. When I said we couldn’t donate to the Bangladesh cyclone victims this week, I was being very literal–at that moment, we didn’t have $50 in the bank account. We’ve been guilty of being extremely irresponsible with our finances. We’re working on it now (have been for a couple of months now, truthfully) but the unfortunate fact is, we dug ourselves into such a hole that it will take a few months of diligence to get entirely out of it.
We’ve known for years that we should be more responsible with our finances. But as I mentioned in a previous post, until the last few months, it wasn’t a goal that truly sprang from our values. It was one of those things we knew we “should” want to achieve. What’s changed this time around (at least for me–I can’t speak for Chris) is that I really want to change this now. Before, I said I wanted to be a good steward but deep down, I equated “good steward” and “financially responsible” with “materialistic.” Very nearly, with “greedy.” I was above concerning myself with something as unspiritual as money.
What an insufferable flippin’ self-righteous idiot I was. (Well, am, but I’m working on it at least.)
I need to keep track of my finances for the same reason I need to confess my sins. Because it’s acknowledging God’s provision. If I don’t count my blessings (including the pennies, dimes and dollars)–it’s exactly the same as what happens when I don’t count my transgressions. Because in a grace-infused reality, counting your transgressions is also counting God’s grace and forgiveness towards me specifically. It makes the general, personal. Conversely, when I don’t count my transgressions, it’s easy to believe God doesn’t really need to forgive me all that much.
Not keeping track of my finances makes it harder for me to be grateful for God’s material provision for me. Because (like most people) I’m a horrible “estimator” when it comes to His provision. I focus on the days when I can’t pay my phone bill, instead of the days that we were spending like we had unlimited resources.
So anyway, this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for many things. My family. My friends. My work. Having enough. And I’m thankful for the ways my eyes are being opened to see more of reality–because the reality that I’m seeing is good. Not safe. Often painful to my fragile ego. But good.
My God bless you today, and throughout the next year. 😉